After a back-and-forth first half of action, Maryland men’s basketball searched for the offensive rhythm it needed to pull away from Old Dominion in its first game of the season.
Struggling to develop a cohesion among new and old faces, things finally began to click for the Terps as halftime neared. Eric Ayala and Jairus Hamilton each knocked down three-pointers on consecutive possessions, while a midrange jumper from Aaron Wiggins put the Monarchs on their heels.
A missed turnaround jumper by Hamilton on the next possession gave Old Dominion a chance to put a stop to the Terp scoring run, but a crashing Chol Marial pulled down the offensive rebound over three defenders before putting it back up and drawing the foul and getting the Maryland bench onto its feet.
Marial’s put-back and subsequent free-throw capped off a 12-0 run over a 2:33 span, one of several large runs throughout the game to allow the Terps cruise to a blowout victory over Old Dominion, 85-67, to begin the year 1-0.
“It was a good day,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We did a lot of great things offensively a lot of great things defensively ... that was a good win, we played well to build that 26-point lead.”
The Terps entered this season with several questions marks surrounding the team, having lost two of its most important players in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. And despite being favored over their Conference USA opponent, many wondered how this year’s Terps would look in their first real action of the season.
In the early going, the new arrivals to the Maryland program looked to find their footing quickly. The two transfers in Galin Smith and Jairus Hamilton each started in the front court in their Terp debuts alongside Ayala, Wiggins and Darryl Morsell as the new-look squad tried to establish an offensive identity in its first action against another opponent.
Ayala took on the load of the offense, showing his ability to get hot quickly for the Terps. Everything seemed to come easy to the junior guard, who finished with a team-high 19 points off 6-for-6 shooting from the floor, including four triples, along with three assists and five rebounds.
“I’ve just been relaxing more on my shot,” Ayala said. “That first shot just gave me a feel and after that I kinda just let the game come to me. Everybody played well so it was easy to just play off my teammates.”
The third-year player out of Wilmington, Delaware, took over the lead point guard position for Maryland, something that remained a big hole heading into the year with the departure of Cowan. Ayala showed signs of his predecessor as a threat from all over the floor as he sunk balls from outside the arc, as well as converting and-one buckets from within the paint.
Smith and Hamilton were the two who were tasked with replacing the production of Smith. The backcourt duo of Smith and Hamilton played 20 and 21 minutes respectively, getting their feet wet with their new teammates as they push to become a legitimate force on the inside for Maryland this season.
“I feel like [Jairus and I] played pretty well considering it was our first game,” Smith said. “Me and him have really good chemistry because of just all the time we practice together ... I feel like going through the season it’s just gonna build and get a lot better, so I feel real confident when I’m playing with him.”
While Maryland’s newcomers were adjusting to playing in a Terp uniform, the team’s other established players shouldered the load. Darryl Morsell drained the team’s first points of the season with a triple before tipping in an offensive rebound, keeping the Terps offense afloat through the opening minutes of the game.
But after Morsell opened the scoring, the Terps went on to miss their next five shots from deep as Old Dominion offense began to find its rhythm.
Turgeon eventually turned to a full court zone press, which managed to get their opponent off-schedule in regard to getting into their sets. The Monarchs scored just four points in the final six minutes of the half as the Terps mounted their impressive scoring run, allowing Maryland to take a 42-29 lead into the break.
“Our guys like it,” Turgeon said of the press. “We did some things defensively that we really have practiced a lot. I just thought it was the best thing to do. And that’s why you play these games to just get different situations that are going on out there and see how quickly your guys can adjust and our guys did a great job of adjusting quickly.”
The Terps continued to stay hot out of the break, coming out firing to try to put Old Dominion away for good.
Wiggins sparked the next Terp scoring run, beginning the half with an acrobatic layup in transition. He followed it up on the next possession with some nice two-man action with Smith, running the pick-and-roll to perfection to feed the big man inside for an easy dunk.
The Terps didn’t take their foot off the gas as their advantage grew, remaining in their press after a Morsell layup to force a turnover into the hands of Hamilton in the backcourt. The forward quickly fed it back to a cutting Morsell on the block, who rose above two defenders for a reverse slam that sent the Maryland bench wild once again.
Maryland’s 9-3 run from the outset of the second half gave it a 20-point lead just three minutes into the half and some much needed breathing room in its first game of the new season.
The Terps managed to maintain its large advantage as the game winded down, allowing for Turgeon to go deep into his bench and allow for almost the entire roster to see the floor. Freshmen Aquan Smart, Marcus Dockery, Arnaud Revaz and Aiden McCool each got some minutes late in the game to make their collegiate debuts, as Maryland coasted to victory in its first game of the season.
“A lot of teams, a lot of people kind of counted us out a little bit and put us on the back burner,” Ayala said. “And I really want to win a lot this year. And that’s kind of my approach right now, you know, whatever I got to do to help us win. I’m really looking forward to winning a lot of games.”
Three Things to Know
1. Maryland’s three point shooting was lights out. After a slow start from beyond the arc, Maryland’s shooters really began to find a rhythm as the game progressed. Relying heavily on Ayala and sophomore forward Donta Scott, with contributions from Wiggins, Morsell and Hamilton, the Terps shot 10-23 from three point range on the afternoon.
“There’s gonna be a real threat to our opponents,” Scott said. “Us being able to shoot the ball is just another key factor that we needed. And now that we can shoot we can hopefully do whatever we got to do just create for our teammates.”
2. Interior scoring remains a question mark. After the loss of Jalen Smith, this year’s Terps were set to be led three relative unknowns in Galin Smith, Jairus Hamilton and Chol Marial. And though each showed flashes, it’s clear Maryland won’t be as effective at scoring inside as was it was in the past. The three combined for 18 points as they struggled to finish consistently inside, though they helped win the rebound battle 41-38.
3. The Terps shot well from the charity stripe. After shooting just below 75 percent from the free throw line each of the last two seasons, Maryland went 15-18 from the line against Old Dominion. Eric Ayala went 3-3 from the line after converting just 72.5 percent of his attempts last season, while Donta Scott made all three of his attempts and Jairus Hamilton went 2-2.