Coach Kevin Willard didn’t have the luxury of rotating players and experimenting with different lineups during Maryland men’s basketball preseason scrimmages.
The coach said the Terps only had eight or nine players available for its exhibitions against Cincinatti and Virginia due to injuries. With seven new scholarship players on the roster, Willard wasn’t able to see how different combinations performed and gelled in the weeks leading up to his second season at the helm.
Willard took full advantage of having an almost entirely healthy roster for Maryland men’s basketball’s season-opener against Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday. Ten different players touched the court in the opening six minutes of the game and recorded at least nine minutes as the Terps coasted to a 68-53 win against the Mountaineers at Xfinity Center.
“I got a lot of work to do with that, to be honest with you,” Willard said of Maryland’s constant tinkering of rotations. “That’s the first time we’ve had 11 guys able to play so I felt like I spent too much time trying to sub and not enough time trying to figure some things out.”
Maryland has won 47 consecutive home openers dating back to 1976, the third-longest active streak nationally. Willard’s squad went 16-1 at home last season and hasn’t lost in College Park since Dec. 14, 2022, against UCLA.
The Terps’ constant rotations led to some dysfunction on offense early, but Maryland stymied Mount St. Mary’s on the defensive end. Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo tipped a Mountaineers three-pointer in the opening moments of the game and freshman DeShawn Harris-Smith, who started in his collegiate debut, recorded two steals and a block in less than a minute.
The Terps (1-0) held the Mountaineers to eight points in the first 10 minutes and 19 in the first half — the lowest total of a Maryland opponent since its 75-45 win against Saint Peter’s last December.
“For them to lock in, chase the right guys off the line — I mean, Dakota Leffew is a really good player, for him to go 3-for-14 and have a freshman on him most of the game just shows they were locked in,” Willard said of the Terps’ defense. “If they can keep that all year long and get better on the offensive end, that’s really good for us.”
The Terps totaled four blocks and six steals in the opening 20 minutes, almost all of which came from guards Jahmir Young, Jahari Long and Harris-Smith. Maryland finished with six rejections and eight takeaways.
Harris-Smith and Julian Reese led the Terps in scoring in the first half with 10 and nine points, respectively, to give Maryland a 33-19 advantage at the break. The latter used his size to his advantage in the lane, shooting an efficient 8-for-11 from close range and recording a team-high 18 points in Tuesday’s win.
Reese added six rebounds and two blocks before foul trouble limited his time on the court in the second half.
The Terps’ three-point struggles from last year persisted in their season-opener. Maryland shot 3-for-16 from deep with freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr., Donta Scott and Long recording its only makes. Reese, Young and Harris-Smith’s success near the rim helped the Terps record 40 points in paint to make up for their long-range troubles.
Willard’s squad made 63.6 percent of its two-point tries and only 16.8 percent of its three-point attempts Tuesday. Despite an almost eight-minute long Maryland field goal drought that allowed Mount St. Mary’s to get back within 12 points late, the Terps’ stellar defense kept the Mountaineers (0-1) at bay and secured a victory to start the second year of the Willard era.
“It was definitely different, guys coming back off injuries,” Reese said. “It’s a great thing that we get it out of the way earlier in the season. We got another test on Friday against Davidson and with our team fully back, knock on wood, I feel like we’ll be good.”