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Maryland men’s basketball overcomes slow start to defeat South Alabama, 68-55

The Terps struggled immensely from beyond the arc but got enough elsewhere to overcome the Jaguars.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

It wasn’t a pretty performance for Maryland men’s basketball early Saturday evening. After a sluggish first half, the Terps found themselves leading by just three points against South Alabama.

But when the second half began, the tide of the game flowed decisively in Maryland’s favor. Choosing to abort their first-half strategy of frequent outside shots and instead primarily attack the basket, the Terps went on a 23-4 run to begin the period and held on for a 68-55 home win.

Peculiarly, all of Maryland’s scoring came from just four players. Forwards Donta Scott and Julian Reese led all players with 19 points apiece, and Jahmir Young (16 points) and Jordan Geronimo (14) added their names to the scoresheet as well.

To start the game, the Terps (3-3) exhibited an overreliance on 3-point shots that weren’t falling. At the halftime buzzer, they were 3-for-17 from distance, in line with their 351st-ranked three-point shooting entering the contest.

The Terps finished just 5-for-31 from three, marking their lowest shooting percentage from beyond the arc in a game this season (16.1%).

“A lot of times we were open, we just unfortunately didn’t make them,” Scott said. “But I’m still trusting my teammates, even if they’re not making shots, because I know they will fall eventually.”

South Alabama’s zone defense dared Maryland to beat it from the perimeter, and that gamble paid off. The Jaguars (4-4) scored on their first possession and didn’t allow the Terps to take the lead until nearly 13 minutes had elapsed.

“They were going to make us shoot the basketball,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “We got four or five early looks — we got wide open. We’re just struggling to make those right now.”

When Maryland battled back, South Alabama responded. And even when the Terps did manage to jump out in front, the Jaguars traded blows with the home squad. At the half, the Terps were up 29-26.

It was a stark departure from the 57 points Maryland dropped in the first half against UMBC earlier in the week, and akin to the noticeable offensive struggles it experienced in its prior four games.

With the missed shots came ample opportunities for rebounds, though, and Maryland unsurprisingly feasted on the glass. At halftime, the Terps had 19 rebounds to the Jaguars’ eight, including 10 offensive boards. By the end of the game, that rebounding advantage had ballooned to 42-26.

Maryland’s play style in the latter 20 minutes of the game was night and day from the opening 20. Its efforts to force the ball inside were rewarded, and the Jaguars had no answer. When the Terps began to wean themselves off long-range jumpers, they found far more offensive success.

“Obviously, if shots aren’t falling then you’re going to have to switch the game plan and try to get it to [Reese] or into any of our other post players,” Geronimo said. “... Coach drew up some nice stuff for us to, you know, get the ball inside.”

On the defensive end, Maryland also found its groove. The same disparities that gave South Alabama trouble defending the paint made it difficult to score there. A combined 33 points from Julian Margrave and Isiah Gaiter were enough to keep the Jaguars around, but Reese made his presence felt with four blocks.

The disparities in Maryland’s play on Saturday were stark. When it looked inside, it was successful — enough so to overcome another troubling showing from the perimeter.

“Our 3-point shooting is obviously a struggle right now, and we’re kind of compounding it a little bit by getting down on ourselves,” said Willard.

Three things to know

1. No scoring depth. Maryland managed to win despite only four of its players scoring. Terps not named Reese, Scott, Young or Geronimo went a combined 0-for-12 from the field.

2. More shooting struggles. Now six games into the season, it’s clear that Maryland is not a good 3-point shooting team. It went 5-for-31 from three on Saturday — a shocking 16.1 percent success rate.

3. Back to .500. The Terps started this season with their worst record through four games in two decades. Even though their recent two wins were against far inferior opponents, they have used this stretch of home games as Willard intended: to stack wins and regain confidence.