Maryland men’s basketball took a trip down to the Bahamas for Thanksgiving. And the warm weather and the new venue seemed to have a striking effect — both negatively and positively. After two strange games, Maryland has a better idea of how it can excel and where it needs to improve.
The Terps failed to leave Nassau with anything of note, but the new scenery offered a better grasp of how Maryland responds to adversity. In the Terps first playoff experience, they fell short of the prize with a 1-1 record, losing to Louisville in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship title match after sneaking past Richmond in the first round.
“We got a lot of work to do,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “… I hate losing. We didn’t come down here to lose, but we got better and I think we feel better about our team than we did a week ago.”
Hakim Hart changes everything
Off the court, Hakim Hart is a man of few words, rarely offering more than a sentence in response to questions during media availability. On the court, Hart has the skillset of an athlete who can provide nearly everything his team needs — on both sides of the floor.
The Bahamas brought out that fully-realized version of Hart, and the Terps benefited greatly.
“Eric [Ayala]’s gonna give us offense, Fatts [Russell]’s gonna give us offense, [Qudus Wahab]’s gonna give us offense,” Turgeon said. “[Julian Reese] is gonna give us offense. Donta is still a work in progress … so to add a [Hart] out there scoring for us is huge for us.”
Against Richmond, it was one of those nights where nothing could go wrong for the developing wing. Hart missed just once en route to dropping a game-high 24 points and splashed four threes that helped catapult Maryland past the Spiders.
The most impressive triple was his last of the night. The converted shot cleaned up an otherwise frantic possession that left Hart with just enough space to step back and launch a corner three before the shot clock buzzer.
Hart’s 22nd point put Maryland up one and began a closing 16-8 run that put Richmond’s upset bid to rest.
His thoughts on his brow-raising numbers?
“It felt pretty good out there,” Hart said.
Hart’s three point play typified the improved shooting of the night. The junior wing shot 80% from range and Maryland shot a season high 43% from three after averaging a historically bad sub-30% mark in its opening six games.
With Hart’s offensive and defensive production, Maryland is at a better place. Although he failed to carry it on the following game, game one of the Baha Mar Championship might prove to be a turning point for his season.
Maryland has a long way to go when it comes to being consistent
By design, Richmond and Louisville are resoundingly different teams with very different playstyles. One single day was far from enough to make the proper adjustments stick and the Terps struggled to capture their second win at Nassau.
Rebounding, of course, was the most prominent issue of the Terps’ second loss of the season (the Terps were out-rebounded 51-25 after dominating the glass 37-32 in game one), but it was the regressed shooting performance that really allowed the Cardinals to take the win.
Some of it resulted from the Terps’ reluctance to utilize its athleticism and push the pace, other times it was the lack of offensive cohesion that led to forced contested shots, or it was a case of November basketball rust that seemingly put a lid on the basket.
After a convincing offensive clinic in game one, it was clear that Maryland has a long way to go if it intends to be a more sound unit in game two.
Hart went right back to being a non-factor on offense with two points, Ayala failed to eclipse double figures and Scott scored but he shot a tepid 37% from the field. Maryland shot a lackluster 38% from the field and 29% from three.
Two assists from starting point guard Fatts Russell isn’t enough for one game of winning basketball against a skilled opponent. A grand total of 17 bench points in two games (five against Richmond) is far too little with the talent available on the roster.
Rebounding will likely fix itself as the Terps find more chemistry on the defensive side of the ball, but consistency is a matter that goes beyond chemistry — one that has to be taken care of as quickly as possible.
The resilience of last year is still with this years squad
It’s always good to know the mental fortitude of a squad before the season gets serious. If there’s anything to takeaway from the numerous nail-biters that have defined this odd start to the season, it’s that Maryland, like last year, has the intangibles of a resilient unit.
“I didn’t know what I had flying down here,” Turgeon said. “I got a competitive group.”
The scuffle and subsequent victory over Vermont, withstanding the clutch play of Hofstra to take a win and weathering the barrage of runs from Richmond to score a season-high 86 points and win, all seem to point to the fact that the Terps are often unwilling to bow out of hard fights.
Even in their two losses, the Terps proved to be stout enough to keep the outcome in doubt until the final minute. Like when Eric Ayala knocked down his back-to-back threes against Goearge Mason or when Maryland cut the Louisville lead to three after allowing a 29-9 run.
It’s this feature of a team that makes it much easier to improve, makes competitive contests less worrisome and it gives the Terps a chance to win against even the most threatening opponents. If there’s anything that should be maintained and cherished this season, it’s the resilience that has been ever-present in wins and losses.
“I think we learned that no matter what we’re always gonna be a fighting team,” Scott said. “ … no matter if it’s height or speed or this or that, we always gonna have each other’s back.”