Maryland men’s basketball strives to find consistency heading into conference play

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball bested UMBC, 80-64 on Thursday night, ending the non-conference part of their schedule to improve to 10-3 as they prepare for Big Ten play. 

While Jahmir Young emerged in this most recent stretch of games as perhaps the team’s best player, Donta Scott struggled through its losing streak and in two of the games since. “He’s gonna snap out of it pretty soon,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said after the game. “We really are a balanced team when it comes to scoring.”

Scott is averaging 13.2 points through 13 games, due to his hot start to the season. He struck a high note at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tournament in mid-November, when he averaged 24.5 points in two games. Since Maryland squared off against Illinois, their first conference opponent of the season, he’s averaged a measly 10.2 points per game while shooting 34% from the field and 19% from the three-point line over six games.

Scott’s regression coincided with, or perhaps led to, Young’s ascent as the team’s high scorer. He hit the winning shot in the Illinois game to rack up a season-high 24 points and—outside of a nightmare outing against UCLA—has since averaged 18.2 points per game on 51%/37%/78% shooting splits over five games. 

Young was almost solely responsible for the Terps’ first impressive stretch halfway through the first period against UMBC. While the Retrievers toiled away from the field, Maryland capped off a 14-1 run in under five minutes. Seven of those points came straight from Young, as he led the charge in attacking the basket to compensate for everyone’s ice-cold long-range shooting. A threat to make a play no matter where he is on the court, Young continues to show a Westbrook-esque ability to take a rebound and push the pace, forcing defenses to play on their heels.

Don Carey served as the night’s pleasant surprise, hitting five threes off the bench while the rest of his team combined for 1-17 from distance. He played his best game in a Maryland uniform, dropping a game-high 19 points and going off at a convenient time. In the Terps’ previous victory over St. Peter’s, Carey had been yanked from the starting lineup in favor of defensive-minded Ian Martinez, having shot an unfortunate 24% from three heading into Thursday’s game.

“No real change, it’s still the same approach,” Carey said of being bumped from the starting five. “Just be ready, and the opportunity will come.”

Carey arrived from Georgetown in the transfer portal this year, having been advertised as a high-volume shooter who sank 39% of his three-point attempts in the previous year. Seventy-five of his 92 field goal attempts this season have been from three-point land, and becoming a marksman again would be huge for a Terps squad that loves taking and missing threes.

The Terps have shot 31.7% from three, which is the 291st-highest mark in Division I, on 23 attempts per game. A lot of their misses against UMBC were on wide-open looks, which they’ll need to knock down to stand a chance against superior-shooting Big Ten counterparts. Maryland led 33-30 heading into the half while shooting 1-14 from distance, but that’s not something to be complacent about in a conference as tough as this one.

Hakim Hart also deserves a shoutout for his quiet dependability as the team’s third-highest scorer, which he displayed as he ladled in 16 points on 5-8 shooting while collecting two steals. The wing is averaging 13 points per contest in his senior season and has distinguished himself as easily the team’s most efficient volume scorer. He’s shot 56% from the floor, including 38% from three and a staggering 70% from within the arc, all while locking down opposing top scorers on the other end.

The Terps’ very real defense showed in the Retrievers’ 36% field goal percentage, their second-lowest showing of the season. Maryland’s starting lineup held steady, with Young, Scott, Martinez, Hart and Patrick Emilien competently staying in front of their men, and Julian Reese came off the bench to assist on some key possessions as he tentatively returned from an injury that kept him out of the previous game.

The Terps deserve credit for stopping UMBC’s six-game winning streak but have to find a way to get their offense to keep up with their defense. They’ll next face off against Michigan (7-5) on the first day of the new year in Ann Arbor, and can hopefully catch the Wolverines reeling after Thursday’s upset loss to 5-8 Central Michigan.