Maryland men’s basketball welcomed in-state foe UMBC to College Park in its final nonconference game of the season Thursday before facing the arduous challenge that is conference play. Horrid shooting by the Terps kept the game close, but a second-half surge allowed them to come away with an 80-64 win in their final game of the calendar year.
Thursday also marked the return of sophomore forward Julian Reese to Maryland’s rotation after a one-and-a-half-game absence. Reese, who was dealing with a shoulder injury, defaults as Maryland’s starting center when at 100%, although head coach Kevin Willard decided to roll with his starting five from the team’s last game, replacing Reese with graduate forward Patrick Emilien and keeping junior guard Ian Martinez in the lineup.
“He had seven full days off,” Willard said. “So seven days, no basketball, no contact. He’s only had two practices, so he’s gonna be rusty.”
At the first media timeout, UMBC held an 11-9 lead, led by graduate forward Jarvis Doles, who came out hot and scored 13 points in the opening 20 minutes. The Retrievers didn’t back down from there, leading by five about halfway through the first half with Maryland in a shooting slump.
“It’s a winnable game. That was my mindset just coming here, just play as hard as I could and try to walk out of here with a win,” Doles said.
Entering the game, UMBC had the fifth-worst 3-point defense in country, according to KenPom.com, a possible area of exploitation for a Maryland team that has been streaky at best from long range. Still, the first half was an abhorrent one 3-point shooting-wise for the Terps, as they went just 1-for-14 from beyond the arc to the dismay of the XFINITY Center crowd, whose groans increased in volume with each off-the-mark attempt.
“I know no one believes me, but we are a good shooting team,” Willard said. “... I never talk about not shooting, stop shooting.
UMBC’s 4-for-12 shooting from three was by no means spectacular, but enough to keep it in the game with timely makes.
A sizable portion of the Terps’ first-half scoring came during an 18-3 run that had them leading by as many as nine points, a lead that was reeled in to a three-point one by the time the half ended. That run featured eight points from graduate guard Jahmir Young, who was slashing to the rim with ease and utilizing his craftiness to generate looks for himself and his teammates.
Young finished with 18 points, going 8-for-11 on two-pointers and adding seven rebounds.
The other standout from the first half, at least offensively, was senior guard Hakim Hart, who led Maryland with 11 points, all of which came near the hoop — a common theme because of Maryland’s inability to hit from outside. 20 of the Terps’ 33 first-half points came in the paint; six more came at the free-throw line.
Hart ended up finishing with 16 points.
When Maryland came out in the second half and scored the first six points — four by Young — it had the looks of the Terps’ last game versus St. Peter’s where they pulled away in the second half and masked a less-than-dominant first-half performance.
That didn’t happen, though, as the Retrievers refused to go away, ducking every one of the Terps’ punches and responding with one of their own — at least for a while.
“That’s a good basketball team,” Willard said of UMBC. “It wasn’t gonna be a blowout. It just wasn’t.”
Eventually, Maryland’s defense caught up with UMBC, forcing it to go almost entirely silent in the middle portion of the second half, bringing the Terps’ lead to double digits — where it would stay for most all of the game thereafter.
While the Terps’ grim shooting from three — finishing 6-for-24 — was difficult to watch, one player did have one of his best shooting nights of the season Thursday: graduate guard Don Carey. Carey was leapfrogged in the starting lineup by Martinez after poor shooting, but he was on point against the Retrievers, nailing five of his seven attempts from outside. He had a team-leading 19 points — 16 in the second half — and was the most active player on the floor.
“I just try to, you know, shot-to-shot,” Carey said of his mindset shooting the ball. “I’ll admit, it definitely feels good to see one go in ... definitely could build off of this momentum, but, you know, I’m more happy that we just played together and really gritted out that game.”
Maryland finishes its nonconference slate with a 9-2 record against non-Big Ten teams and 10-3 overall, having gone 1-1 in its two early conference games. Now, as the new year beckons, the real test begins for the Terps. From here on out, Maryland will play exclusively Big Ten opponents — a league that, per usual, looks to be among the nation’s best. That 18-game stretch starts in just three days when the Terps hit the road to face Michigan on New Year’s Day.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s three-point struggles continued. The Terps shot 50% from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes, but players not named Don Carey went 1-for-17 from three. Maryland doesn’t have the size to beat Big Ten teams without at least passable 3-point shooting and will need to hit more often from distance to compete moving forward.
2. Julian Reese was back. Reese missed the second half of the Terps’ game against UCLA on Dec. 14 and the entire game versus St. Peter’s on Dec. 22 with a shoulder ailment. He was back on the floor Thursday and provided a boost in the frontcourt, finishing with seven rebounds and seven points — all on free throws.
3. No time to rest. After just two games in a span of two weeks, Maryland has a grueling schedule awaiting it to begin 2023. The Terps go to Michigan on Jan. 1 and then play at Rutgers on Jan. 5, before returning home to face No. 23 Ohio State on Jan. 8. There are no easy games in the Big Ten, and Maryland will need to bring its A-game each and every night during conference play.