By: Eddie Hobbs
At the 12:35 mark early in the first half, the ball was fed to Mount St. Mary’s Jalen Gibbs at the top of the key. Freshman Serrel Smith was guarding Gibbs in a ready position as a screen came to switch Smith onto an oversized Omar Habwe, the Mount’s leading scorer on the evening with 18 points.
Habwe tried to back down Smith before settling for a contested fadeaway jumper that clanged off the back rim. Smith grabbed the rebound and brought the ball up the court and began the set offense, sending the ball to Eric Ayala on the right wing who eventually swung the ball to fellow freshman Aaron Wiggins for a deep triple to balloon the early lead to 17-7.
Head coach Mark Turgeon recruited the lengthy 6-foot-4 guard to become a scorer off the bench, but it wasn’t just his offense that caught Turgeon’s eye in the 92-77 win over the Mount, it was his defense.
“He had the two three-pointers, he got the back door cut and got a layup, but I thought he defended well, too,” Turgeon said. “Really, that’s important – to stay on the floor and that he guards and we can trust him on the defensive end.”
Smith was held scoreless in three of his first four games, but had a breakout game on Sunday afternoon adding a career-high 13 points off the bench, going 3-of-6 from deep in 18 minutes of play. In his first four games, Smith was just 1-of-12 from 3-point range.
The increased production from Smith gave Turgeon more faith in leaving him out with a mixed group of starters and role players and even some minutes where he was the only bench player on the floor for the Terps.
“He just makes us deeper,” Turgeon said. “We were on our way to 100 points and then we just stopped playing. I think it just shows you how we’re much more explosive when he’s playing that way. It makes us deeper and takes pressure off other guys. I think everybody relaxes a little bit more.”
Smith’s play is promising to see, especially with the inconsistency of the young bench unit this year. Through the first four games the bench has averaged 14 points per game. Outside of the Hofstra game where Bruno Fernando came off the bench, Turgeon has had a hard time finding a consistent scorer from that unit.
“He’s capable of being the seventh guy because of the way we share the ball – 23 assists. It helps and I think he’s getting confidence. It was good for him to make one. That’s why you play these games – to get better and for guys to get more comfortable.”
The play of Smith is coming at a time where Maryland could really use another scorer. The next four games will pose tough tests for the Terps, starting with a Marshall team on the heels of its first NCAA tournament since 1987. Maryland will then play No. 4 Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC challenge before opening up Big Ten play against Penn State and No. 24 Purdue.