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Three takeaways from No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball’s season opening victory

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The Terps picked up a relatively easy 95-71 victory to kick off the year. Here were the biggest takeaways.

Jalen Smith vs Holy Cross Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball took care of business in its season opener against Holy Cross, running away with a 95-71 victory over the Crusaders.

A win was certainly expected, but there were still some important takeaways from the action. Here are the biggest things that jumped out.

1. Jalen Smith was the best player on the court.

The competition wasn’t necessarily daunting, but Smith still impressed in the first game of his sophomore campaign.

The sophomore led the Terps in scoring with 16 points, shooting 7-of-12 on field goals from inside the arc (he missed all three of attempts from deep). There were times he seemed to forget his size advantage against the Crusaders — head coach Mark Turgeon said Smith tried to “finesse” too much — but when he played as a typical five inside, he was dominant.

“He could’ve had 30 tonight,” Turgeon said. “You can tell he’s much more consistent. Even though he didn’t make those shots, he’s more consistent in his play out there and he’s a heck of a player. I’m glad we got him.”

But Smith’s presence was most felt on the defensive end, as he racked up three blocks and seven defensive rebounds (he finished with 11 total for the game). Nobody on Holy Cross’ roster was taller than the 6’10 Smith, and it showed time and time again.

Smith also had the play of the game late in the second half, when he blocked point guard Drew Lowder’s fadeaway shot and then finished in transition in between two Holy Cross defenders.

“I did [the Euro-step] and my gas tank was on ‘E’ on that one, so I decided to try to get it into the basket as best I could,” Smith said.

2. Anthony Cowan Jr. was the main facilitator

As a point guard, Cowan’s job is to run the offense effectively and efficiently. Last season, he struggled a bit in both aspects, as his assists per game dropped from the 2017-18 season nearly 15 percent while his turnovers continued to be an issue.

Entering his final season with the program, Cowan seems focused on having more of a team-first approach to the game, and that showed on Tuesday night. He took just nine field goal attempts — fourth on the team, despite playing the most minutes of any Terp — to finish with 12 points. Last season, Cowan had just four games with less than 10 shots in 34 appearances.

And as the leader of the offense, Cowan did a great job in facilitating the basketball. The senior finished with five assists — a game-high for either team.

Cowan also could have had an extra few assists if Aaron Wiggins caught a couple passes inside (or made any three-pointers). But with only two giveaways on the night, he finished with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, much better than his 1.8, 1.6 and 1.6 figures the last three seasons.

It’s no secret that this is Cowan’s last go-around in College Park, and he’s grown into a dependable leader for his younger teammates.

“He’s an individual who just leads by example,” Morsell said. “When you go to him to ask him questions, he’ll let you know, but on a daily [basis], he’s just someone who [leads] by example. He comes in every day, he’s consistent. Throughout every game, he’s consistent, and he knows how to motivate you.”

3. Donta Scott and Serrel Smith Jr. were excellent off the bench

At the 14:04 mark of the first half, Maryland was locked in a 16-16 tie with Holy Cross when Turgeon subbed out four starters. The only starter that remained was Cowan, and he was joined by Darryl Morsell, Serrel Smith Jr., Donta Scott and Makhi Mitchell.

With four fresh bodies on the floor, Maryland went on a run. The Terps outscored the Crusaders 17-8 over the next six minutes of play, giving them a lead they’d never relinquish.

Morsell led the second unit both offensively and defensively, but he wasn’t the only one who took the game by storm. In his first college game, Scott was a firecracker, scoring nine points in 17 minutes while going 4-of-6 from the field, including an emphatic putback dunk.

“Donta, he’s just an animal, he’s just a different breed. So I always knew he was going to play good,” Smith said. “He’s always trying to help our team. If it’s a missed shot, he’s always going after it. If it’s a loose ball, he’s always diving for it. He just plays hard and [tries] to leave his heart out on the court.”

And on a night where the Terps struggled mightily from beyond the arc — as a team, they made just five of their 27 attempts — Serrel Smith Jr. was a bright spot. The sophomore shooting guard lived up to that billing on Tuesday, as he scored eight points thanks to a 2-of-3 night from three-point territory, providing an offensive spark exactly when needed.