Late first-half run and balanced offense guides Maryland men’s basketball to season opening win

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Leading 51-32 with 17:12 remaining, Jairus Hamilton anticipated the pass from Xavier Green and intercepted it in mid-air. Hamilton quickly gathered the ball, took several dribbles and found senior Darryl Morsell who soared with an emphatic reverse jam.

Morsell’s dunk energized the bench and was part of Maryland’s continued momentum to start the second half en route to a 85-67 win over Old Dominion. The 18-point victory is Maryland’s 44th consecutive home opening win and a glimpse at the new look Terrapins in the 2020 season.

“Darryl is important, his shot looked great today and he’s really worked at it,” head coach Mark Turgeon said.

Over the first ten minutes of the first half– both teams were rusty shaking off the near nine-month layoff between games. Kalu Ezigpe ignited the Monarchs offense early with 10 points, showing off his versatility inside. Eric Ayala and Morsell guided Maryland’s offense stepping into the leadership roles that both players discussed throughout the offseason.

“I had a feeling Eric was going to play well,” Turgeon said. “He practiced well the last two days and he was really into it this morning. 

Last season, defense was Maryland men’s basketball calling card all-year long bringing them great success. Maryland utilized a similar formula on Wednesday converting defense to offense using a 13-0 run in the latter stages of the first half to build a double-digit lead and the Terps never looked back. In addition to that late run, the Terps had balanced scoring as well with four players finishing in double figures.

The final 6:45 of the first half, the Terps held the Monarchs to just seven points with relentless defensive pressure employing the press. The press forced the Monarchs to start their offensive sets late in the shot clock, which led to many contested shots. As Maryland’s defensive intensity heightened– they found their groove offensively.

During that run, Hamilton and Ayala served as the catalysts for the Terps. Hamilton began the run with five consecutive points. Ayala continued the momentum, as he drilled a three-pointer from straight on, which was part of his 19-point perfect shooting day from the field. 

On the ensuing possession, Aaron Wiggins showed part of his diverse offensive repertoire knocking down the elbow jumper. Chol Marial extended the momentum grabbing an offensive rebound– and finishing the layup plus a foul for a three-point play. That extended Maryland’s lead to 39-25 and put the finishing touches on the 13-0 run.

“I think we got pressure on the ball, kind of disrupted them and we got some easy [baskets] in transition,” Ayala said of the run. “It gave us the momentum right before the half and we broke away a little bit.”

As a collective unit, the Terps maintained a strong 21-15 rebounding advantage in the first half using a combination of their size and great positioning. That strong rebounding and offensive balance propelled Maryland to a 42-29 halftime lead.

Maryland continued building on its first half momentum, at the start of the second half. In the opening three minutes, the Terps executed an 11-3 run, extending the lead to 53-32, highlighted by the Morsell dunk. While Maryland’s defensive tenacity continued to start the second half, so did its success shooting from the perimeter.

“Us being able to shoot the ball is just another factor that we needed,” Scott said. “Now that we can shoot, we can pump fake, do whatever we have to do to create for our teammates.”

When Old Dominion slowly began to build a little momentum, Scott knocked down two triples maintaining Maryland’s 20-point advantage. Those two triples were part of a career-high 14-point performance for the sophomore in just 16 minutes of action. 

After the Monarchs trimmed the lead to 19 on a Jaylin Hunter jumper– the Terps executed another 7-0 run catapulting the lead to 73-47. Scott knocked down his third three of the second half, followed by a terrific defensive play by Morsell reading the passing lane and drawing the flagrant 1 clear path foul. 

15 seconds later, Ayala knocked down his fourth and final three of the night, once again stepping up with confidence. Ayala’s three was another gut-punch to the Monarchs comeback hopes and another sign of his increasing confidence and command of the game in his third season in College Park.

The final six minutes of the game weren’t the Terps finest moments as Ezigpe hit his stride once again putting a small dent in Maryland’s commanding lead. While those six minutes weren’t the best for the Terps– both freshman guard Aquan Smart and Marial flashed their potential. Smart scored his first points as a Terp, with a lefty floater and added an emphatic driving dunk in the lane. Down the stretch, Marial also grabbed his second of three offensive rebounds converting second-chance points.

Despite losing their two leading scorers from last season the Terps showed they still have a plethora of offensive firepower complemented by that same defensive ferociousness that brought last year’s team great success. Next up, the Terps host Navy on Friday at the Xfinity Center with tip-off scheduled for 3 p.m.

“We did a lot of great things offensively, a lot of great things defensively,” Turgeon said. “It was a good day, a really good day and [Old Dominion] was a great team.”

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