Coming off a 24-point victory over Holy Cross four days ago, No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball had a tougher challenge in store — Rhode Island.
The Rams looked terrific at the start, but the Terps’ flipped the game script late in the first half and ran away for a convincing 73-55 victory. Here were the biggest takeaways from Saturday night.
1. Jalen Smith is a monster.
Through 20 minutes of play on Saturday night, Smith was bottled up. He was perfect from the field, but had just six points and four rebounds, as he was opposite A-10 standout Cyril Langevine, for whom Mark Turgeon had high praise.
“[Langevine’s] a terrific player,” Turgeon said after the game. “Man is he good. Best second jump I think I’ve ever coached against.”
Smith was mainly kept under wraps until six minutes remained in the game, when he completely took over. In a span of four minutes and seven seconds, the sophomore big exploded for 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
That included a devastating slam off a pick-and-roll with Anthony Cowan Jr. to put an emphatic cap on Maryland’s game-clinching run.
Jalen Smith is possessed. 10 points in just over three minutes. pic.twitter.com/Fk24gsxrMz— Sean Montiel (@SeanMMontiel) November 10, 2019
The Terps had already secured a victory, getting out to a double-digit lead late in the half. But Turgeon made it a point get Smith involved, and it paid huge dividends.
“Turgeon wanted us to give him the ball in the post, and he was able to go to work,” sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins said. “And I think once he saw the ball go through the [basket] a few times, his confidence went up and he was just able to go when he wanted to. Being able to trust our bigs, giving them the ball is really good thing for us.”
Smith finished 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with 11 rebounds on the night, his second double-double in as many games. He also added two blocks, giving him five on the season.
2. The Terps switched things up defensively
Turnovers were aplenty early on for both sides on Saturday night, but the Rams had a lot of shooting success through the first 12 minutes of action. Rhode Island amassed a 24-12 lead, and despite constant giveaways, it was scoring nearly at will.
Then the Terps pulled out the zone. Turgeon deployed his five in a 1-3-1 set in an effort to throw the Rams out of sorts offensively, and they did just that. Rhode Island scored just eight points in the final eight minutes of the first half, including a stretch of four and a half minutes without a basket.
“I think [the 1-3-1 zone] is really effective against certain teams just to get different looks,” Cowan said. “It was really tough to get stops in the first half, especially in man. [The zone] defense really changed the game a little bit for us. Coach knows when to call that defense.”
The late spurt of strong defensive play in the first half carried over after the break, as the Terps locked in and closed the door. The Rams shot just 20.6 percent from the field in the second half and went long stretches without scoring, which allowed Maryland to go on runs and extend its lead.
“In the second half, I thought Darryl [Morsell] and Donta [Scott] did a great job of fronting the post and making it hard on them.” Turgeon said. “And then our double team was good, and then our rebounding was better. ... I thought all our guys did a great job of keeping the ball in front of them.”
3. The bench was used sparsely
After a 2018-19 season where the Terps didn’t have guys at the end of the bench who could make a big impact, depth was going to be the biggest change in this go-round.
That was certainly evident in the season-opening win over Holy Cross, as Maryland turned to a plethora of options to fit into the puzzle. But against Rhode Island, that wasn’t the case at all.
Just six players finished with double-digit minutes on the night, as Donta Scott was the only guy off the bench to see any sizable workload.
“We got enough bodies where if certain guys aren’t playing well, we still have enough where we can choose five, and that’s what we did,” Turgeon said. “We really found [six] guys in the second half that were playing well, and we just kinda went with them.”
Ricky Lindo Jr. and Serrel Smith Jr., the seventh and eighth options on last year’s squad, played just over 10 minutes combined. And the Mitchell twins — who dealt with foul trouble early on — failed to make any real impact whatsoever in their second career games.
“I think it’s just a matter of growth,” Wiggins said. “And they’ll learn from this. I’m sure next game, they’ll be a lot better with fouls. And I mean, they’ll be fine. It was just a matter of trying to match their effort, match their energy, match their toughness.”