Maryland men’s basketball hit the ground running in its first game of the 2020-21 season, defeating Old Dominion, 85-67.
In a preseason filled with uncertainty, the Terps took on the Monarchs in an empty Xfinity Center without its two top-scorers from a season ago in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. However, the offensive side of the ball shined for Maryland over a scrappy Old Dominion defense, with four Terps scoring in double figures.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the Terps’ first win of the season.
Eric Ayala was perfect from the floor
Playing alongside Cowan for the last two seasons, Ayala was primed for a breakout season as the team’s lead point guard.
The 6’5 junior led the Terps with 19 points on a perfect 6-for-6 clip from the floor in the win, including four shots in as many attempts from outside of the arc. The guard shot made just 27.4% of his three-point attempts in his sophomore campaign, but proved his worth as the Terps’ go-to scorer in the season’s opener after scoring the team’s first points on a drive to the rim.
“It wasn’t too impressive, just because that’s him. He’s a sniper, a knockdown shooter,” Galin Smith said. “I think really highly of him when it comes to his playing what he brings to the team. So it was really big for us for him to hit those shots. But, like I said, he’s a sniper, so he knocking them down.”
The last Terp to hit every shot he threw up from the floor with at least five attempts was Ricky Lindo Jr. a season ago, when he scored 13 on 6-for-6 shooting against Fairfield on Nov. 19, 2019.
As one of the team’s best shooters, Ayala was a menace from all parts of the court on Wednesday.
After receiving the ball at the top of the key with nine minutes left in the contest, the guard took it himself all the way to the rim with two defenders shadowing him the whole way. Ayala hesitated at the free throw line, leaving Old Dominion guard Malik Curry lagging behind as he then found his way to the bucket and made the and-one shot through heavy contact for the second time in the game.
“I just constantly try to to mix it up,” Ayala said. “Not just settling for the three ball.”
Ayala also didn’t miss from the free throw line throughout the contest, and he finished with an additional five rebounds and three assists.
Donta Scott provided a spark from the bench
After starting 21 of 31 games last season as a freshman, Scott was in the first wave of Terps to came off the bench Wednesday.
The sophomore’s 14 points ranked second on the team and were a career-high. He also had a career-high in three-pointers, draining three in the victory.
The 6’7, 225 pounder out of Philadelphia added seven rebounds to his stat line as well, his most since a double-digit performance against Nebraska in February.
Boston College transfer Jairus Hamilton got the start at forward over Scott and put up five points with two rebounds and two assists, but he shot just 1-for-7 from the floor in his debut for the Terps.
Scott’s ball movement skills as a big man also facilitated many of the team’s big runs in both halves of the contest that led to the lopsided victory. His +9 on the +/- scale ranked as the best among the team’s bench players.
If Scott is able to replicate his dominance off the bench for Maryland like he did against the Monarchs, the Terps might just have a chance of taking home their second straight Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year award after Wiggins won it last season.
“Only time can tell,” Scott said about his role as a bench player. “I’ll just follow what my coach says and whatever my team needs. And that’s what I’m gonna give them.”
Ten players found the bucket for Maryland
For the first time since Dec. 29, 2019, win over Bryant, 10 or more players scored for the Terps Wednesday.
Ayala led the way with 19, but three others finished in double digits, as Scott had 14 and Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell each finished with 12.
Turgeon gave 13 players time on the court to open up the season, 10 of which saw playing time within the game’s first seven minutes as the Maryland head coach swapped all of his starters for the team’s next five.
“We were a little bit nervous at the start, played 10 guys right out the gate, and it’s kind of hard to get rhythm when you do that,” Turgeon said. “And then we kind of settled in.”
Sophomore Chol Marial provided the Terps with some much needed size, as the 7’2 center scored seven points in the paint and added four rebounds and two blocks in his 17 minutes of action.
Six newcomers took the floor for the first time in a Maryland uniform, two of whom, Hamilton and Alabama graduate transfer Galin Smith, made it into the team’s starting lineup. The duo combined for 11 points, while freshman guard Aquan Smart tacked on six of his own, highlighted by a monster slam down the lane in the game’s final minutes.
“Galin and Jairus were great,” Turgeon said. “Galin was just real solid. Jairus got us going offensively, even though he wasn’t scoring. He made one three, but when we posted, we played through him on the post.”
A team that lost a multitude of players to graduation, the NBA and the transfer portal showed its depth on Wednesday, getting contributions from nearly everyone who entered the game, which could prove crucial going forward.
“Having a deep team gives a bunch of guys a lot of energy,” Scott said. “Because you could take one guy out and then it’d probably be the next best thing right next to that guy. And just go back on the court and give the same energy effort.”