With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Maryland men’s basketball looked to continue to add to its massive lead over Saint Peter’s.
Aaron Wiggins drove hard into the lane before spinning out and kicking to Hakim Hart outside the three-point line. The sophomore guard had already knocked down three triples to that point, so Peacocks guard Dallas Watson closed out on him hard.
A subtle pump-fake from Hart got his man off his feet, allowing him to side-step the defender and stroke a long two, setting a new a career-high for the Philly native in his first career start for the Terps.
“We did a good job of finding him, and we played inside out and we did a great job with that,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We want him to hunt his shot because if he shoots like that and people are running at him, he can make plays for himself and for others. He’s a terrific passer, has a great feel for the game.”
Maryland rode the hot hand of Hart all afternoon long, capably dispatching the Peacocks 90-57 to move to 4-0 on the season.
Hart led all scorers with 32 points on 11-of-13 shooting and a 5-of-7 clip from three-point range, marking the most points scored in a game by a Terp since Melo Trimble’s 32-point performance against Northwestern in 2017. He also added four steals and three rebounds, finishing with a game-high +34 in the 28 minutes he was on the floor.
“Just by all the coaches saying pregame, ‘Be ready, be confident and just shoot the ball.’ That just gave me confidence to go out and score,” Hart said.
Maryland put together yet another balanced offensive display as a team, with four players scoring in double-figures in Hart, Eric Ayala (12), Donta Scott (14) and Jairus Hamilton (15).
The beginning of Maryland’s Friday afternoon tilt with the Peacocks was marked by yet another new starting lineup, with Turgeon opting to use a different starting five in each of the team’s first four games of the season.
This time, Wiggins made way for Hart, who many tabbed as a potential breakout candidate for the Terps prior to the season. However, Turgeon noted after the game that an elbow injury that Wiggins suffered in practice was the reason for him coming off the bench, and that he’s expected to return to the starting lineup going forward.
Hart’s freshman year, though, wasn’t one that inspired much confidence for the 6’6 guard. A three-star recruit out of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Hart appeared in 18 games for the Terps last season but averaged just 1.6 points on 22.2 percent shooting (including 14.8% from deep) in 6.2 minutes per game and struggled to remain a part of the team’s bench rotation.
The now sophomore wasted no time in leaving his mark on the game Friday, knocking down each of his first two attempts from deep to help Maryland go on an early 12-0 run and jump out to a 10-point advantage over the Peacocks.
He continued to play an impactful role on both ends of the floor through the early going, forcing two steals by the halftime break. After as the on-ball pressure from senior guard Darryl Morsell forced Dallas Watson to lose control of his dribble, Hart intercepted the loose ball and hit junior guard Eric Ayala on the fast break.
With a clear runway to the basket, Ayala rose above the rim and flushed it down with one hand, drawing the foul as well to energize his teammates on the floor and on the bench to put the Terps up 14-2.
Maryland’s scoring efficiency was a constant through its first three games of the season, with senior guard Darryl Morsell mentioning earlier this week the team’s commitment to finding the best shot possible on every given possession.
The team continued that trend in its offensive approach against the Peacocks, beginning the game by converting on eight of its first nine field goal attempts after shooting 59.6 percent from the field its last time out against Mount St. Mary’s.
Such was especially true for Hart, who checked back into the game at the 10:19 mark of the second half and connected on his first two field goal attempts, including another three ball, to tie a career-high 11 points while putting the Terps up 30-14.
Maryland began to cool down as the half neared a close, going over three minutes without a point down the stretch, but still managed to take a sizable 42-23 lead into the break.
The Peacocks came out of the locker room facing a large deficit, but didn’t have any plans of laying down in the second half. They kept up the full-court pressure, which fed into their offense to cut Maryland’s lead to just 14 in a blink.
However, back-to-back three-pointers from Hamilton and a nice 15-foot floater from the sophomore extended the lead back to a comfortable 19 points and forced a timeout from Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway.
“They were big threes and I feel like a lot of guys stepped up and made a lot of big shots today,” Hamilton said. “I just had a good little run, especially in the second half going for me. I was just taking my shot and shooting them with confidence.”
The Peacocks continued to try to mount a comeback as the second half progressed, eventually trimming the lead to just 15 points with over 13 minutes left to play. But after a foul was called that Saint Peter’s forward KC Ndefo disagreed with, he made a remark to referee Courtney Green as he was getting subbed out, prompting Green to immediately eject the reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Terps were subsequently given six shots at the charity stripe as a result, converting on five of them to restore the lead to 20 points.
Maryland had to endure yet another long field goal drought, with the team’s scoring coming almost exclusively from the free throw line over the near-eight minute spell without a field goal. But Donta Scott put an end to the Terps’ streak in emphatic fashion, rising up over Saint Peter’s forward Hassan Drame for a two-handed slam to re-spark the offense.
The Hakim Hart show kept on rolling as the game began to wind down, knocking down shot after shot in the closing minutes to continue to add to his point total. Hart didn’t miss a shot from the floor in the second half, going 6-for-6 on field goals and 2-for-2 from deep, along with 6-for-7 from the line, to score 20 points in the 14 minutes he was on the floor, putting a perfect cap on the sophomore’s breakout performance.
“He always had confidence,” Scott said of his teammates scoring display. “He just had to go out there show us that he can go do what he’s capable of doing.
Three Things to Know
1. Maryland struggled with turnovers. The Terps turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, but Saint Peter’s was only able to score six points off those turnovers. Despite poor shooting from both sides in the second half, Maryland turned the ball over just five times, bringing its game total to 16.
“We were making a lot of turn[over]s early, you know, they were playing very aggressive defense that, you know, kind of shocked us early on,” Hamilton said. “We just bonded together as a team, figured out what we needed to do, what was open, where the options were and just moved on from that.”
2.Chol Marial looked comfortable. The 7’2 center has struggled to find a rhythm so far this season, averaging just 12.6 minutes per game this season while not looking very comfortable in the minutes he had on the floor. Marial may have turned a corner with his performance today though, looking in-control on both ends of the floor, finishing at the rim offensively and sending two shots back in the paint.
3. Darryl Morsell and Aaron Wiggins both struggled to find their shot. Coming into Friday’s game as the team’s second and third leading scorers, Morsell and Wiggins were held without field goasl for the first time this season. Morsell was scoreless after shooting 0-of-4 from the field and 0-for-1 from three-point range, while all of Wiggins’ five points came at the free throw line. But despite lackluster performances from two of its key scorers, each still contributed to the win, with Morsell’s defense having an significant impact and Wiggins adding four rebounds and tying a career-high of six assists.
Correction: There was an error in the live stat system and online box score, which was reflected in this article. Hakim Hart had 32 points, not 33, as he was mistakenly credited for a Galin Smith free throw.