Maryland men’s basketball rides defense to season-opening 85-67 win over Old Dominion

Maryland’s Chol Marial rises above two Old Dominion defenders for a layup attempt during the Terps’ 85-67 win over the Monarchs on Nov. 25, 2020 at Xfinity Center. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Chol Marial just had to look at the bench and admire what he had done. It was early in the first half, and Old Dominion guard Malik Curry flashed to the rack, hoping to give the Monarchs the lead for the first time in the game.

That’s when Marial appeared, using every inch of his nearly eight-foot wingspan to swat Curry’s layup away — and spring the Terps on a transition opportunity of their own. And while Donta Scott notched an and-one on the other side of the court, Marial stood at the other foul line, peering at his jubilant teammates in delight.

Marial’s block was one of many highlights for coach Mark Turgeon’s squad, who — buoyed by a stout defensive display — beat Old Dominion 85-67 for a comfortable win to open the season.

“It was fun,” Turgeon said. “It was fun to be back out there. It was taken away from us — rightfully so — last year. It’s just fun to play a game.”

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Defense has often been Maryland’s calling card during Turgeon’s tenure. Last season, the Terps — fueled by Jalen Smith’s Big Ten All-Defensive Team exploits— gave up 64.5 points per game, good for fifth in the conference.

And that commitment to effort and desire on the defensive end was evident on Wednesday, particularly as Maryland’s offense got off to a dreary start.

“I think we got pressure on the ball, kinda disrupted them,” guard Eric Ayala said. “We got some easy ones in transition — some steals and fast breaks. It kinda gave us the momentum right before the half [ended].”

It started with Marial’s block, fostering life into an unassuming first seven minutes. The Monarchs and Terps traded some makes, but mostly misses, to start.

Then, Turgeon switched to a 3-2 zone. Marial and Alabama transfer Galin Smith, traditionally seen as post players, were thrust onto the perimeter, forced to close out on Old Dominion’s wings.

“[We] made a couple adjustments on defense that were good for us,” Turgeon said.

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And while there were some frustrations — a late Marial close out drew audible groans from the coaching staff — the change helped neutralize the Monarchs’ attack. Old Dominion shot 12-for-30 in the first half. And with the paint proving increasingly impenetrable, they settled for shots from outside, going 3-for-13 from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense overcame its initial wobbles. Ayala led the way in the first half, notching 10 points on 3-for-3 shooting. Darryl Morsell, Jairus Hamilton and Aaron Wiggins each netted from three as well, helping the Terps open up a 42-29 halftime advantage.

“Once we settled into the game and we turned our defense up, then it started to change the game for us,” Smith said.

It was more of the same in the second half, with Maryland giving the Monarchs a number of different looks on the defensive end. Maryland’s press, which began to take shape toward the end of the first half, proved especially effective.

“Our press got us going a little bit, which was great,” Turgeon said. “The guys like running it.”

Hamilton, the Boston College transfer whom Turgeon described as a “grown man” last week, stretched high to pick off an errant pass at halfcourt before feeding Morsell.

The Baltimore native did the rest, taking one dribble before finishing with aplomb — a reverse slam to push Maryland’s lead to 19, an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.

And although the setting was far more serene than what the Terps have come to expect, they’ll take it: a convincing win to open what might be a tumultuous season.

“It was just us out there,” Ayala said. “We fed off each other’s energy.”

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