During its three-game losing spell, Maryland men’s basketball couldn’t buy a bucket. On Tuesday against UMBC, even its half-court shots were falling.
Jamie Kaiser Jr.’s 47-foot heave that hit nothing but nylon as the first half ended was emblematic of the Terps’ success in their 92-68 win over UMBC, without a doubt their most impressive performance of the young season.
Although Kaiser captured the highlight of the night with his first-half buzzer-beater, he was far from the only Maryland player to put forth an impressive offensive showcase. Jahmir Young led all players with 20 points, with Donta Scott (14 points) and Julian Reese (15) following close behind.
After a slow start to the season, Maryland looked at this stretch of three consecutive buy games — all at home — as an opportunity to stack wins and build momentum. The teams it will face later in the season pose a much greater threat than UMBC, but after the program’s first 1-3 start in over 20 years, it saw an opportunity to get back on track.
“I think the guys were really excited about just coming and playing at home,” Maryland head coach Willard said. “... I think it’s why we got off to such a great start last year — we had four home games where I was able to work through a whole lot of issues with the team.”
Maryland’s best moments under Willard have come when defense has guided its offense, and that was the case Tuesday. Twenty-three UMBC turnovers directly led to 24 Maryland points, and countless more defensive stops allowed the Terps to dictate the pace of play.
“I thought we did a really good job in the first half, kind of really getting them on their heels,” Willard said.
“We just emphasize letting our defense dictate our offense,” added Young.
Maryland also showed an offensive tenacity previously unseen this season. It frequently forced the ball into the paint through post touches for Reese and dribble-drives, especially when UMBC’s leading scorer, Khydarius Smith, was forced to the bench with early foul trouble. Maryland’s 48 points in the paint were a season-high.
“They’re big to begin with,” UMBC head coach Jim Ferry said. “[Smith’s] been averaging like 20 [points] a game — I thought he was one of the guys that we had to match up with them and he got those two quick fouls.”
UMBC’s relative lack of size certainly contributed to the Terps’ ability to have their way down low. According to KenPom.com, UMBC entered the game with the 248th-tallest average height in the county (76.8 inches), while Maryland entered at No. 76 (77.8). No player benefited more than the 6-foot-9 Reese, who imposed his will in a 13-rebound showing.
Even with Maryland’s general ability to put points on the board, there was still room for improvement. It was entirely unreliable from 3-point range, needing its advantages down low to coast to victory. It entered Tuesday’s game ranked No. 350 in the nation in 3-point percentage (21.6 percent) and made only six of its 21 shots from distance (28.6 percent) against the Retrievers.
On multiple possessions, the Terps fired off multiple 3-pointers and came up empty before settling for a higher-percentage shot from within the arc. Freshman guard DeShawn Harris-Smith embodied this trend, going 0-for-3 from three but still scoring 12 points on layups and free throws.
Maryland’s 40 points in its last game at Villanova were a new program-low in the shot-clock era, and unconvincing prior showings offered little confidence into its ability to score with any consistency. That was flipped on its head when the Terps scored 57 points in the opening 20 minutes, the most they’ve scored in a first half since Jan. 19, 2010 against Longwood.
“They were highly motivated after that Villanova game and it showed,” Ferry said. “I think you saw what they can be this year.”
Despite a five-minute field-goal drought in the early portion of the second half, Maryland added 35 points to finish with 92 on the night — a much-needed jolt for a team in need of a jump-start.
“Obviously a tough start, but being able to come back and get our swag back was important for us,” Young said.
Three things to know
1. An explosive first half. Maryland’s 57 first-half points were its most in a first half in 13 years, and the most in a half under Willard. Ninety-two points are also the third-most the Terps have scored in a game under Willard.
2. Shooting struggles continued. You wouldn’t know it from the final score, but Maryland struggled to hit outside shots once again. Its season 3-point shooting percentage moved to 22.9 percent.
3. Emptying the bench. With a comfortable cushion, Willard was able to use all the players at his disposal. Guard Chance Stephens and center Braden Pierce were inactive with injuries, but everyone else — including walk-ons Ben Murphy and Lukas Sotell — saw the court. Murphy hit a mid-range jumper with under a minute remaining for his first career points.
Freshman Jahnathan Lamothe also scored his first points as a Terp.