Jairus Hamilton knew what he had to do. He just needed a little push.
Maryland men’s basketball held a seven-point edge with just over two minutes left in the first half of its Feb. 21 matchup with Rutgers. And with the shot clock dwindling, Scarlet Knights guard Paul Mulcahy had the ball.
Hamilton was his assignment, facing Mulcahy up on the perimeter. But his positioning was just off, offering a glimmer of a lane for Mulcahy.
So, Darryl Morsell gave Hamilton a slight nudge. The gap closed. And seconds later, the buzzer sounded: The Terps had forced Rutgers into a shot-clock violation.
At times, it’s been a difficult transition to life in College Park for Hamilton, who transferred from Boston College during the offseason. But as Sunday’s adjustment showed, the junior forward is beginning to make his presence felt for Maryland.
“I know this hasn’t been the best year for me,” Hamilton said on Feb. 16. “But [I] just want to stay confident and stay ready for any time they need me, and I’ll just come in and produce whenever I’m needed.”
Production wasn’t an issue when Hamilton was suiting up for the Eagles. The Charlotte native was a fixture in Boston College’s lineup, starting 20 games as a sophomore. He was a high-volume scorer, tallying up double digits in 11 appearances, including a 23-point explosion against Virginia Tech.
And with a wealth of skilled ball handlers on coach Mark Turgeon’s roster, Hamilton seemed poised for a breakout junior year with the Terps.
“He’s versatile,” guard Eric Ayala said after Maryland’s 79-61 win over Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 29, 2020. “He can do so much. He can drive. Defensively, he can switch out on guards and guard wings and bigs. He’s been phenomenal since he’s been here.”
But the luster started to wear off as the losses piled up. Turgeon began jostling his lineup to get the Terps back on track. By the new year, Hamilton was on the bench.
Still, the opportunities to contribute were there. Hamilton regularly saw over 20 minutes of game time coming off the bench.
There were flickers of optimism for Hamilton, too: 15- and 10-point outings in blowout losses to Michigan, a seven-point display against then-No. 17 Minnesota in which Hamilton helped lock down the Golden Gophers star big, Liam Robbins.
“Jairus is new to us because there was no spring, no summer, no fall,” Turgeon said. “It’s just a maturation process.”
And in Maryland’s two-game set against Nebraska, Hamilton bloomed. Hamilton showed off a smooth three-point shooting stroke, netting six of his nine attempts across both games. There were aggressive drives to the basket, too. With just over eight minutes left in the first half of the Terps’ first matchup with the Cornhuskers, Hamilton reeled a pass from guard Aaron Wiggins on the wing.
He faked a three, put the ball on the floor and darted to the lane. With two defenders converging, Hamilton feigned a shot once more, slipping underneath Nebraska’s challenges to sink a wide-open layup.
“He provided a little spark, he gave us a little bit of energy and on the offensive end, he was making shots,” Wiggins said after Maryland downed the Cornhuskers 64-50 on Feb. 16. “It was really good for us, kinda opened the floor up a little bit for us, and we were able to get things going.”
They aren’t qualities Hamilton was always associated with in his young Maryland career. But with his recent resurgence, the Terps will be hoping it’s Hamilton who does the pushing, as part of an improving core of players lifting Maryland to yet another tournament appearance.