Between the baselines: Length and active hands spark Maryland basketball in season opener

Entering this season basketball pundits around the country touted Maryland’s depth and also referenced their length and versatility throughout the roster. In the 95-71 season opening win over Holy Cross, the Terps displayed their size and length on both ends of the floor. Maryland finished with 18 offensive rebounds and forced 14 turnovers defensively, pacifying the Crusaders’ hot start from the field. 

Trailing 22-21 with 10:56 remaining in the first half, junior guard Darryl Morsell displayed his active hands with his first of three steals on the night. Sophomore forward Marlon Hargis snagged a rebound for Holy Cross and attempted an outlet pass to junior guard Austin Butler to push the ball up the floor. Energized after not starting, Morsell read the pass perfectly and stole it. He completed the play with an emphatic slam to put Maryland back on top 23-22 — a lead they would not relinquish. Morsell’s steal is emblematic of his experience and growth over the last three years — expertly reading an opposing player’s eyes to jump a passing lane.

“When I see I can make a play, I just try to make a play,” Morsell said. “They were running kind of similar sets, we call it Radford, so I was kind of picking up on their sets and just trying to guess.”

Morsell was not the only Maryland defender with active hands. Sophomore forward Aaron Wiggins was also strong defensively, finishing with three steals. Both Wiggins and Morsell are two of Maryland’s best perimeter defenders, long and agile, standing at 6-5 and 6-6 respectively. 

Facing off against the fast-paced Crusader offense, their hands and quick feet allowed Maryland’s wings to limit the number of cross court passes that would have opened perimeter opportunities. This was particularly vital as entering the matchup the Terps didn’t have much information on the Crusaders, with new head coach Brett Nelson bringing in a completely new system. 

All five players on the floor for Holy Cross could shoot, spacing the floor and presenting a challenge for the Maryland defense. But the Terps stuck to their defensive fundamentals. By cutting off passing lanes and denying open looks, Maryland made it difficult for the Crusaders to come back in the second half.

“We really wanted to lock down and guard, we didn’t really have too much film on them, but there was no excuses,” senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr said.

On the offensive end, Maryland’s size and length posed too much of a challenge for the far shorter Crusaders. It took Maryland some time to impose its will, but center Jalen Smith and forward Donta Scott led the way inside. Smith led Maryland with 11 rebounds and set the tone early with his size drawing two fouls on sophomore center Blake Verbeek 15 seconds into the game. Four of Smith’s rebounds came on the offensive glass, providing Maryland with extra  opportunities. 

Scott impressed on the glass as well, with four offensive rebounds. The Philadelphia native impressed coaches throughout the offseason with his physicality — and it showed on Tuesday. Despite their youth, both bigs used their length and size to develop inside position making it nearly impossible for the Crusaders to grab several defensive rebounds.

“Donta Scott was terrific,” head coach Mark Turgeon said postgame. “I thought Donta really helped us played with some toughness makes plays.”

Facing off against Rhode Island on Saturday, Maryland will need to continue breaking up passing lanes and using their length as an advantage on both ends of the floor. Playing in the very tough Big Ten conference, length and active hands defensively will be two key themes for Maryland throughout this season. 

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