No. 6 Maryland men’s basketball and George Mason met Friday night in battle of two undefeated teams.
After yet another late half run, the Terps ran off with an 86-63 victory over the Patriots.
Maryland now moves to 5-0 on the season and has won nine straight against George Mason.
1. The freshman are coming along quickly
Last season, Maryland’s freshman class were thrust into action early on due to a lack of quality options. They comprised five spots on the main eight-man rotation, which made for an uneasy fit at times.
An abundance of depth has been the key difference this season, which has lightened the workload on this year’s rookies. Still, the four freshman — Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott and Hakim Hart (Chol Marial is still on the shelf) — have made sizable impacts through five games.
On Friday night, the biggest contributors were Makhi Mitchell and Scott, who combined for 19 points on 4-of-10 shooting — 10-of-14 from the charity stripe — with 13 rebounds. For Makhi Mitchell, it was a welcome sight after some struggles in the first few games.
But Scott has been consistent at every turn for the Terps in this season, and he doesn’t often look like a freshman out on the court.
“I thought Donta was Donta,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Donta listens to everything you say. [George Mason’s Jordan Miller] shot fakes, extra pivots, [he’s a] really tough guard. Couldn’t do it against Donta.”
Makhel Mitchell and Hart had quieter games, but both have had big contributions in their past couple appearances. Overall, the group has exceeded the expectations of most everyone.
“I’m very impressed,” sophomore big Jalen Smith said. “It’s five games in and they’re treating it like it’s just a [normal] season. I’m just very happy for them. They’re always listening, they always pay attention to detail, and they’re just learning.”
The next four-plus months will consist of some ups and downs for the freshmen, but if they continue to mature at this rate, they could be crucial members of the rotation as the season progresses.
2. Three-point shooting is still an issue
Coming off of its best three-point shooting performance of the season (38 percent) against Oakland, Maryland appeared to return to its old habits Friday night.
After knocking down 4-of-12 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, the Terps attempted 10 more in the latter half, but only made another two.
Aaron Wiggins was Maryland’s best three-point shooter last season, hitting 41.3 percent of his attempts. He entered Friday night with just five makes on 23 attempts through five games, but he rebounded with a 3-of 7 performance from beyond the arc. But the rest of the team didn’t follow suit.
Hart, who entered the game around the 14-minute mark, has seen an increased role as of late, was not shy to pull the trigger. The freshman shot and missed two shots in about an 1:30 span before getting subbed out. He finished 1-for-4 from three-point range, advancing his season average to 25 percent.
While six other Terps — Smith, Anthony Cowan Jr, Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala, Scott and Serrel Smith Jr. — all attempted shots from deep, only Scott and Cowan made one of their attempts.
“[We have to] continue to stay confident,” Wiggins said. “Everybody has confidence and encourages each other to shoot. When we get the ball in open spots, we’re not getting it there for no reason, it’s because we have the ability to shoot.”
Due to the Patriots’ 1-2-2 full-court press, the Terps were forced to execute their offense in half-court sets and were unable to get out into transition and run — an area that Turgeon has emphasized to his team.
If teams continue to do this against Maryland — especially the ones in the Orlando Invitational next week — the Terps are going to have to convert their shots from deep.
3. Free throws or physicality (can tie in both (more physicality led to more free throws))
Leading up to the season, Turgeon claimed that this year’s squad brought an added physicality to the team, particularly due to the added toughness brought in by the freshman class.
“So the new guys [are] very talented, very physical and [have a] good feel for the game,” Turgeon said back on Oct. 15 at media day. “We weren’t the most physical team in the world last year, a lot of it was our youth. But these guys are built pretty well so our practices are much more physical.”
The Terps’ physicality was on full display against the Patriots, as Maryland finished with a 46-32 advantage on the boards. Among that edge were 16 offensive boards, leading to a ton of second-chance opportunities.
However, unlike the past couple games, making good on those extra chances wasn’t easy. George Mason opted to foul the Terps early and often — the Patriots finished with 25 fouls on the night — sending them to the line for a season-high 38 attempts.
Entering Friday night, Maryland as a team shot just 65.5 percent on free throw attempts, which included a season-worst 14-of-25 performance on Tuesday against Fairfield. But against the Patriots, the Terps took full advantage.
Maryland went 30-of-38 from the charity stripe — good for a 78.9 percentage — and the team’s biggest stars cashed in. Ayala went 4-of-5, Smith went 6-of-7 and Cowan went 7-for-8, and the rest of the team fell in line. Smith is now shooting 74.1 percent on the year, a big step up from last season.
“I struggled last year from the line,” Smith said after Friday’s game. “I shot I think [around] 65 percent and that was just one of my main focuses [entering the year] — being a better free throw shooter.”
The Terps won’t always shoot as well as they did from the free throw line every night — they also won’t shoot as poorly as they did Tuesday — but if they can get some consistency, teams may think twice about fouling often.