After two months of flashing signs of excellence, Julian Reese was rewarded with his first career start for Maryland men’s basketball.
Reese has been one of the first players off the bench since game one, but in the Terps’ 70-59 loss to Rutgers, he was the one going up for the opening tipoff.
He lost that tip and put forth an uneven performance, but one with plenty to offer excitement about, just as he has all season long.
“Julian’s been practicing well, just a different look for us,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “He came out and did some really good things for us.”
Reese got the first start in his young career taking the place of Qudus Wahab at center. It also signaled the first time the Terps have changed their starting lineup all season.
Even as Manning took over from Mark Turgeon in Dec. 2021, he has not touched the starting lineup, but rather taken a few liberties with minute allocation off the bench. That was until facing the Scarlet Knights.
Reese became the first true freshman to start a game for Maryland since Donta Scott in 2019 against Fairfield. Scott had an underwhelming debut in the starting lineup at the time, scoring just once in 12 minutes of play.
For Reese, there was much more on his shoulders than just a handful of minutes facing a lesser nonconference opponent. He was tasked with primarily manning Clifford Omoruyi — a 6-foot-11 sophomore having a breakout campaign at center. Omoruyi averaged 11.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game entering Saturday’s matchup.
The two traded impact plays in the opening minutes, not from scoring the ball, but rather trying to swipe extra possessions for their team.
Omoruyi was the first to break the run of play, rising above Reese to grab the ball as it tumbled downward. Rutgers was unable to capitalize that time.
[Late run from Rutgers sinks Maryland men’s basketball, 70-59]
Reese was then the one to give his team more opportunities with offensive rebounds on the next two possessions. He looked strong going up above the larger Omoruyi, however, when he came back down, fortunes were not as favorable.
His second grab brought steady applause from fans, quickly followed by silence after Reese shuffled his feet and lost possession for a traveling call.
It’s those kinds of rookie-level mistakes that will largely keep the Terps’ prized freshman from becoming the go-to on gamedays for the rest of the season. With Wahab still a viable option at center, the two look destined to trade minutes through the remainder of the season.
“Q is still going to play minutes,” Manning said. “Those two guys will probably flip-flop a little bit more throughout the course of the year.”
About five minutes in, Reese finally had the chance to get his first points, taking a foul after grabbing an errant shot from the hands of Fatts Russell.
Taking a trip to the line, he aired his first shot, but placed his second perfectly.
That became the name of the game for Reese — getting an offensive rebound, taking a shot at the basket and earning a trip to the free-throw line. That’s a recipe that Manning favors, provided those free throws drop.
And they did for Reese. After that first miss, he sank the other five that he took on the day.
“Rebounded the basketball well, especially on the offensive end, made his free throws,” Manning said. “Just went with a different look.”
Following a game against Northwestern where Maryland left 14 points on the court from free throw misses, the Terps only left two against the Scarlet Knights.
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Reese also had one of his cleaner games of the season. He had fouled out in three of his previous five games, but it took until 3:26 remaining in the opening half to commit his first. His second followed soon after. But Reese only fouled once more before the final buzzer.
The second half was a bit kinder to Reese in his effort from the field. He was 0-for-3 in the first half, but finished two of his four attempts in the second. One make was a nifty finish beneath the net, the other a crucial putback down the stretch.
Reese finished with nine points and seven rebounds — six on the offensive end — a solid effort from the freshman’s first day in the starting five. He made a handful of mistakes, particularly in the second half that aided Rutgers’ 21-8 run in the final seven minutes of the game.
A bad tip from Reese on a missed free throw by Omoruyi allowed the Scarlet Knights to regain possession and they capitalized with a jumper from Geo Baker.
All in all, Maryland kept Omoruyi to six points, but his 10 rebounds were costly as the Terps’ entire team struggled in the second half. Improvements for future performances, according to the team, will be found in what went wrong down the wire.
“I talked to a couple guys, just take the time, we’ve got a long afternoon today, and just watch that second half,” Eric Ayala said.