DeShawn Harris-Smith was the first true freshman to start a season opener for Maryland men’s basketball since 2018. He showed why Tuesday night.
After a stagnant start, Harris-Smith powered Maryland through the final five minutes of the first half, scoring eight points in that span. The run secured a double-digit halftime lead for the Terps, one they would not relinquish.
Harris-Smith finished the game with 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in the Terps’ season-opening win over Mount St. Mary, 68-53, in College Park.
“I had my family out there, my whole high school team, so I had a lot of confidence,” Harris-Smith said. “[I] really felt like a hometown hero.”
The Terps’ offense struggled early on, but their defense hounded the Mountaineers. Maryland recorded six steals and four blocks in the first half, holding Mount St. Mary’s to just 19 points.
The additions of Harris-Smith and Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo added defensive versatility and athleticism. Harris-Smith did most of his damage in the first half, recording 10 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block, while Geronimo often guarded the Mountaineers’ best player, Dakota Leffew.
“It takes no talent to go out there, block shots, get a steal,” Harris-Smith said. “[It’s] just all about how bad you want it.”
Jahmir Young, standing at 6-foot-1, also got in the mix on the defensive end, recording two first-half blocks. He had 13 blocks in 35 games last year.
When the offensive stalled, junior Julian Reese’s name was often called. The Mountaineers don’t have a player on their roster to match Reese’s stature, and he let them know. Following a hook shot that secured his ninth point of the half, Reese lowered his hand toward the floor, letting the home fans know the Mountaineers were too small.
Reese finished the game with a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting.
Jamie Kaiser Jr. is the second half of a promising freshman duo with Harris-Smith, and he made his presence felt after subbing in at the 14-minute mark of the first half. Kaiser Jr. showcased his premier shooting ability, nailing a three and a contested mid-range jumper with little hesitation.
The Terps, namely Harris-Smith, owned the final seven minutes of play, going on a 15-5 run to secure a 14-point halftime lead.
Maryland continued to expand its advantage to open the second half, led by its returning trio of Reese, Young and Donta Scott, who combined for the Terps’ first 19 points. Reese remained relentless in the paint, Young got to the rim with ease and Scott hit shots from everywhere on the court.
The second half was a much sloppier performance from the Terps, who only outscored the Mountaineers by one. Mount St. Mary’s rallied for a 12-3 run late in the half, but could not overcome a double-digit deficit.
“They’re a good basketball team. They’re not just gonna lay down and let us win,” Harris-Smith said. “Basketball is a game of runs. So, we just gotta take the runs and then come back and ... punch a little bit harder than they did.”
XFINITY Center was silenced two minutes into the second half when Harris-Smith collapsed to the floor, smacking it in frustration. He rolled on the ground near midcourt for roughly a minute before being helped off with an apparent thigh injury.
Luckily for the Terps, it turned out to just be a cramp. After receiving treatment and jogging around during a media timeout, Harris-Smith returned to the court, playing out the stretch of an impressive collegiate debut.
Three things to know
1. Geronimo started. Maryland head coach Kevin Willard elected to start Geronimo over Kaiser Jr., signaling the Terps’ desire for athleticism and defense. Geronimo finished the game with two points and five rebounds, compared to Kaiser Jr.’s five points.
“I tried to move Donta to the three and play Jordan at the same time,” Willard said. “I’m doing that because I feel there’s four or five teams in the Big Ten that I think we’re gonna have to play a little bit bigger.”
2. Maryland’s rotation was as deep as advertised. Willard preached the depth Maryland possessed this season compared to last, and it was reflected by the 11 players who received playing time Tuesday night.
“That’s the first time we’ve had 11 guys able to play, so I felt like I spent too much time trying to sub and not enough time trying to figure some things out,” Willard said.
3. The Terps struggled from three. As has been a common theme for Maryland over the last few seasons, it could not hit threes against the Mountaineers, shooting 3-of-16 from distance.