Maryland men’s basketball travels to face Clemson in its first road game of the season

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

After a hectic week with four different cancellations due to the coronavirus, the Terps (4-0) are traveling to Clemson (3-0) to take on the Tigers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Maryland was scheduled to have back-to-back games last Friday and Saturday. 

However, after defeating Saint Peter’s on Friday, the game against James Madison was cancelled due to a positive coronavirus test within the Dukes’ program. As a result, the Terps had more preparation time for the Tigers.

“We’ve got some veteran guys that have been through [playing on the road],” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Hopefully that will give us an advantage in our first road game and we’ll play well because we got some veteran guys.”

Wednesday night’s matchup at Littlejohn Coliseum will be the first game for Maryland this season with fans, as up to 1,860 fans are allowed. It also marks the first time the Terps and Tigers will face off since 2014 when both teams were members of the ACC. However, forward Jairus Hamilton, the Boston College transfer, has played at Littlejohn Coliseum before, including last season when he scored 17 points.

“It’s our first road game so we’re going to learn a lot about how we handle the road,” Hamilton said. “I think we’ll learn a lot about ourselves playing tougher competition. We’re going to learn how much we can endure and how much we can handle throughout this season.”

Already this season Clemson has defeated both Mississippi State and Purdue by double-digits, as two of its three wins have come against Power Five competition. However, the Terps also received two votes in the latest AP Poll with four commanding victories to start the season, winning by an average margin of 24.8 points per game. 

Although Maryland hasn’t faced any Power Five opponents so far, the Terps’ offense has been firing on all cylinders. In each of their four games, the Terps have had at least four players score in double figures. That offensive balance has been a key theme early this season, as junior guard Eric Ayala leads all scorers with an average of 15.3 points per game. 

Sophomore Hakim Hart has enjoyed a resurgent start to the 2020 season as he’s averaging 12.8 points per game and is coming off a career-high 32-point performance in his first start against Saint Peter’s. Sophomore Donta Scott and junior Aaron Wiggins round out the Terps quartet of players who are averaging double figures with 11.8 and 10.8 points per game respectively.

While Maryland’s offense has been impressive to start the season, so has Clemson’s defense. Even though it’s a small sample size, through three games the Tigers are only allowing an average of 50 points per game, stifling opposing offenses. In those games, Clemson has held its opponents to 35% shooting and 29% from three– both areas where Maryland has excelled so far this season.

Offensively for Clemson, senior forward Aamir Simms leads the way. He was one of 20 players named to the Karl Malone Watch List before the season. Simms was also a Third Team All-ACC selection last season and has paced the Tigers so far this season averaging 12 points per game. In addition to Simms, redshirt sophomore guard Nick Honor also averages double figures leading the Tigers in the backcourt.

“[Clemson] reminds me a lot of us, they might even have a little more depth than we have,” Turgeon said. “They’ve had a lot of points coming off the bench and their starters are veteran guys that have been there and played well for them.”

One key area to watch for throughout this game will be the turnover battle. So far this season, the Tigers have forced opponents into 21.7 turnovers per game. However, the Tigers have also struggled to protect the ball averaging 14 turnovers per game. 

While Maryland’s offense has largely been efficient to start this season, it has also struggled to protect the ball. Through four games, Maryland has averaged 12.5 turnovers, an area that it’ll need to limit against Clemson. 

As both teams have opportunistic defenses which like to push the pace in transition off of opponents’ mistakes, points of turnovers is a stat to watch for. The Terps average 15.5 points off turnovers, while the Tigers average 23.7 points off of them. Limiting turnovers and preventing transition opportunities will be a point of emphasis throughout for both teams.

Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. in Clemson and the game will air on ESPN2.

“I’m just looking forward to going out there and competing,” Ayala said. “It’ll be fun to have our families there.”