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Three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s season-opening victories

The Terps got off to a hot start and remain unbeaten after their first week of action.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball finally got back on the hardwood this past week, playing three games in five days to open the 2020-21 season. The Terps defeated Old Dominion, 85-67, Wednesday, Navy by a 82-52 score Friday and took down Mount St. Mary’s 79-61 Sunday.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from the opening slate.

Scoring is much more spread out than a year ago

Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith were the clear stars for Maryland last season. One of the two was the leading scorer in all but two of Maryland’s games, and the duo’s departure left big questions ahead of the 2020-21 season.

The Terps’ first three games thus far have showed that there won’t be one star to step up to fill that hole, rather, it will be a collective effort.

“It’s the way we coach them. And if a guy gets hot, we try to go to him a little bit more. That’s the way that the system’s set up,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We have a lot of good players. ... We’re deep basketball team, and that helps. And I think we wear teams down a little bit.”

Seven different players reached double-digit scoring through the opening slate, with at least four players surpassing 10 points in each contest. Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell surpassed that mark in all three games, combining for an average 40.7 points an outing.

Donta Scott had one game with 14 points and another with 17, both career highs at the time, while Hakim Hart, Galin Smith and Jairus Hamilton each did so in one contest.

“It says that once one guy down, another guy gonna pick up the slack and just be right there to get those points that the other guy not getting and pick up the team,” Donta Scott said.

The Terps often struggled when Cowan or Smith was off their game last season, so having a wide array of scoring options will be crucial down the stretch. This group is set out to prove that they don’t need star power to get the job done.

The starting lineup remains in the works

Turgeon has gone with a different starting lineup in each of the first three games as he tries to find the right combination for his new look team.

Ayala, Wiggins and Morsell were the consistent starters and are expected to remain locked in, but the four and five spots have fluctuated. Hamilton and Smith got the nod against Old Dominion, Scott and Smith took the floor first versus Navy, and Hamilton and Chol Marial took the opening minutes against Mount St. Mary’s.

Nine players saw at least 15 minutes on Wednesday, while seven players hit that same mark in both Friday and Sunday’s contests. Additionally, bench players combined to play an average 80 minutes per game. As the competition gets steeper, this distribution is likely to go down significantly, but the early experience could play dividends.

Turgeon seemed to find a rotation he liked against Mount St. Mary’s, keeping the combination of Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton in for nearly the final nine minutes of the game. The group led Maryland on a 21-0 run to establish a definitive lead over a scrappy Mountaineers team.

“They move well together and they’re getting used to playing that lineup. We haven’t practiced it a lot,” Turgeon said. “So it was really great experience for them just to play in a pressure moment with that lineup and have to execute.

This group could certainly pay dividends in small-ball situations, but conference play against the big bodies of the Big Ten could require a different makeup. Still, the lineup is very likely still a work in progress just three games into the season.

The Terps have been efficient on offense

Maryland had arguably one of the best seasons in program history in 2019-20, but the team still struggled in certain areas; the most glaring of which was how it shot the ball. The Terps averaged 41.9% from the floor and 31.1% from long range through the shortened season.

The first three games this year have proved to be a different story. Maryland has shot an average clip of 58.6% on field goals and 44.6 on three-pointers, including 68.2% from the floor against Navy, which was the program’s best since 1986. The team is also making 85.7% of its free throw attempts, on average.

The 44.6% from deep is the highest for a Maryland team through the first three games of the season since 2005-06. The field goal percentage of 58.6 is the highest in that span in any season, going as far back as online records (1999-2000). View the full chart of this research here.

The Terps currently lead the nation in effective field goal percentage, per Kenpom, also ranking in the top-20 in adjusted offense efficiency, shooting percentage inside the arc and free throw percentage. And their three-point clip of 43.9% ranks 26th in the country.

“It’s gonna be a real threat to our opponents,” Scott said of the team’s ability to shoot it from deep. “Us being able to shoot the ball is just another key factor that we needed. And now that we can shoot, we can pump-fake and do whatever we got to do just to create for other teammates.”

Scott, Ayala and Morsell have shown off their accuracy on offense, with each shooting at least 64% from the floor. And though he took less shots, Smith shot 84.6% (11-for-13) from the floor

Ayala has especially impressed as he’s shot 72% from the floor and 57.1% from deep through the opening trio of games.

“I’ve been shooting pretty well in practices recently,” Ayala said. “And just been relaxing more on my shot.

If the Terps can keep up this level of efficiency, they could be a dangerous offense, to say the least.