Maryland men’s basketball opens its 2020-21 campaign with three consecutive home matchups

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Since winning a share of the Big Ten regular season title on March 8 against Michigan, Maryland has anxiously awaited a return to competitive regular season action. Due to the challenges and safety requirements associated with COVID-19, the Terps have had a truncated offseason. 

However, the unconventional offseason will soon be in the past as the Terps begin their 2020-21 season against Old Dominion Wednesday at the Xfinity Center. Although there will be no fans at the Xfinity Center to start the season, the Terps are energized for the season opener.

“Fans or no fans, we want to try and go out there and win a basketball game,” junior guard Eric Ayala said. “Looking forward to just getting out there, having fun and competing.”

Maryland lost last season’s two leading scorers in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. Cowan’s scoring and playmaking ability will be difficult to replace, while Smith’s production on the interior — both scoring and as a shot blocker — will be missed.

“You can never live up to what [Anthony Cowan] did here,” freshman guard Aquan Smart said. “He was an all-time great player here; we just want to be even better and keep building on what he brought to this program.”

This season the Terps have a healthy mix of returning veterans combined with an infusion of transfers and youth. The guard tandem of senior Darryl Morsell and Ayala headline the returners in the backcourt, while junior Aaron Wiggins and sophomore Donta Scott are key returning veterans in the frontcourt.

Entering this season, there were question marks surrounding Maryland’s depth down low, losing Jalen Smith, Ricky Lindo Jr., Joshua Tomaic, Makhi Mitchell and Makhel Mitchell. However, the arrival of transfers Jairus Hamilton from Boston College and Galin Smith from Alabama have helped address some of those depth and size issues. In addition to the transfers, sophomore Chol Marial is back at full health this season after playing limited minutes last season battling injury issues. 

“We’re pleasantly surprised, it’s been really good,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of the frontcourt. “[Chol Marial] is much further along than we thought he’d be at this point. Galin Smith has played valuable minutes, he was well coached at Alabama. We’re hoping [Donta Scott] makes a jump for us and [Jairus Hamilton] is a good player. We feel good about our front court.”

In late August, the Terps paused practices due to positive coronavirus tests and then underwent a several week period to get the team back in practice shape, once again. Since that period ended, Maryland has been able to return to a more normal practice schedule over the past month. Over that time, coach Turgeon has noticed improvement from the returning players in several areas.

“Across the board all the guys that were here last year have improved their game in all areas,” Turgeon said. “I think across the board you can say that guys have grown up and really matured in a lot of areas, which has made practice a lot easier for me and it’s helped me coach.”

That maturation and growth will be tested this week as the Terps’ season kicks off with three games in five days against Old Dominion, Navy and then Mount St. Mary’s. All three of those team’s finished below .500 last season and will be looking to pick up a key early season win against a Power Five opponent.

“I think it’s a great test to play a lot of different teams that have a lot of different styles, so we can prepare to play basketball all different ways,” Morsell said.

The Monarchs return each of their top three scorers from last season, the guard trio of Malik Curry, Xavier Green and A.J Oliver III. Similar to Old Dominion, Navy also returns each of last season’s top three scorers. 

Those top scorers are headlined by senior guard Cam Davis, who averaged 16.2 points per game last season, which nearly doubled the total from his sophomore season. Although Mount St. Mary’s also struggled in the 2019-20 season, they’re returning several key players from last season too.

All three opponents will present varying challenges for the Terps who will be in game action Wednesday for the first time in 262 days. Tip-off between Maryland and Old Dominion is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. and the game will be aired on BTN+.

“For the guys who are returning we truly feel like we missed something that we could’ve done last season,” Wiggins said. “We have this hunger and fire in us that we want to get back in the same position we were last year. With the new guys they’ve come in with the mentality to push and to work and help make sure that we’re the best team possible.”

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