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No. 6 Maryland men’s basketball vs Fairfield preview

The Terps face the Stags with a new number next to their name.

Maryland men’s basketball, bench huddle, 2019 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Coming off a dominant 80-50 win over Oakland on Saturday night, No. 6 Maryland men’s basketball returns to the Xfinity Center Tuesday night to host the Fairfield Stags.

The two teams have only met once previously in 2009. The Terps pulled out a 71-42 victory with former Terps Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne scoring 14 and 10 points each, respectively.

The Stags have only won one game this season, earning a 68-63 overtime victory over Holy Cross. Maryland hosted the Crusaders for its first game of the season on Nov. 5, beating them 95-71.

But despite the No. 6 in front of their name and Fairfield’s sub-par record, the Terps appear focused on their next challenge.

“We’re a team with a lot of potential, so everyday is a chance to get better,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “As far as motivation, at Maryland — you’re playing at a Big Ten school, if you’re not motivated and ready to play then that is a problem.”

Fairfield Stags (1-3)

2018-19 record: 9-22 (6-12 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)

Head coach Jay Young has some familiarity with the Terps. Young was hired in April 2019 after serving three years as an assistant coach at Rutgers University. During his tenure in Piscataway, New Jersey, Young helped lead the Scarlet Knights to their best-ever Big Ten finish last season and their first Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals appearance in 2018. However, Young’s first season at the helm for Fairfield has gotten off to a rocky start, winning only one of his first four games.

Players to know

Jesus Cruz, junior guard, 6’5, 210 lbs, No. 24. Cruz has been a steady player for the Stags the past two years, playing in every game as a sophomore and freshman. But with Fairfield losing two of its top four scorers, Cruz will be called upon to create more offense for the team. So far this season, the Puerto Rico native has done just that, leading the team with an average of 19.5 points per game. However, the junior guard has struggled beyond the arc, hitting only three of his 17 attempts from deep.

Landon Taliaferro, senior guard, 6’5, 220 lbs, No. 25. Taliaferro, the Stags’ leading scorer from last season, has picked up where he left off. Through four games, the senior guard is averaging 14.3 — two more points than he averaged last year. The Boulder, Colorado, native is not afraid to pull from deep, either. Taliaferro is 10-for-29 from beyond the arc this season, while last year he hit nearly 42 percent of his shots from that distance.

Taj Benning, junior guard, 6’4, 202 lbs, No. 2. Despite being the shortest player in Fairfield’s starting lineup, Benning is tied for the most rebounds on the team with 27. After playing just over 10 minutes per contest during his freshman year, Benning inserted himself into the starting lineup last year and has played 160 minutes through four games this season. The Fair Lawn, New Jersey, native is averaging 11.5 points per game, which is third on the team.

Strength

Free throw shooting. As shown above, Fairfield currently has three players that can score the ball. Those same three players —Cruz, Taliaferro and Benning — can also get to the charity stripe and convert. Those three players, alone, are shooting 84 percent from the line, while the team as a whole is making 75 percent of its attempts.

With Maryland racking up 17 or more fouls in two of its three games this season, Fairfield is not a team that the Terps should be giving free scoring opportunities to.

“Getting ready for some tougher teams and tougher opponents and then Big Ten play, it’s crucial that we focus on little things right now,” Maryland guard Eric Ayala said. “Cleaning up those little things and fouls — making sure that we don’t mess those things up when we get into bigger games.”

Weakness

Rim protection. While Maryland maintains the tallest team in the Big Ten Conference, with an average height of 6’8, Fairfield tallest players — Wassef Methnani, Vincent Eze and Omar El-Sheikh — are all 6’8. The trio has combined for five blocks, and the Stags average 3.3 blocks per game.

Unlike its last matchup against Oakland, the Terps will be able to take advantage of their size inside. Maryland is currently averaging 46 points in the paint and can be expected to surpass that against Fairfield on Tuesday night.

Three things to watch

1. What can be expected from the Mitchell twins? Makhi Mitchell has got the nod from head coach Mark Turgeon the past two games and started for the Terps. However, the freshman from D.C. has struggled to stay out of foul trouble in both games.

Against Oakland on Saturday, Mitchell played about 1:30 and picked up two fouls before Turgeon subbed him out for his twin brother, Makhel Mitchell. The twins combined for seven points and three fouls.

“The two of them make one body for me right now,” Turgeon said. “We were going to sub a certain way [against Oakland] and Makhi picks up a couple fouls, Makhel goes and gets him. Makhel screws up, boom, Makhi goes and gets him.

“Pretty soon they’ll become two different guys. But for me right now, they’re just one guy — their games are so similar,” Turgeon said.

2. Will the new defensive strategy be effective? Prior to the matchup against Oakland, Turgeon installed a 1-2-2 press defense that the team executed in the second half. Due to the defensive switch, the Terps caused the Golden Grizzlies to turn the ball over 10 times in the final period of play.

On Monday, Turgeon said that his team will be executing a brand new defensive scheme against the Stags that its been working on for about two and a half weeks. Maryland has shown some versatility on the defensive end through four games. And though it hasn’t ever been his coaching style in the past, with such a deep team this season, more defensive schemes from Turgeon’s squad in the coming games can be expected.

“It throws teams off offensively. They can’t really scout what play we’re going to run, how they are going to execute their offense against us,” Ayala said. “It gives us an advantage.”

3. How many milestones will Anthony Cowan Jr. surpass? Going into the matchup against the Stags, the senior guard has the opportunity to surpass a few Terp greats in the record books.

Cowan needs two more points to pass James Gist (1414) for the No. 20 spot on Maryland’s all-time scoring list and just one more three-pointer to elapse Walt Williams (154) in the No. 11 position for all-time three-pointers made.

The Bowie, Maryland, native had the opportunity to break both records on Saturda, but worked more as a facilitator, notching a season-high seven assists against the Golden Grizzlies.

Cowan is bound to break plenty of records during his last season in College Park, but this is definitely a start for him.

Predictions

Vegas: -26, O/U 132

ESPN BPI: Maryland 94.6% chance to win

KenPom: Maryland 78-55 (Maryland 98% chance to win)

Me: Maryland 88, Fairfield 47