From Jalen Smith becoming a dominant player to Donta Scott’s debut to the Terps playing fast, here are three takeaways from the Maryland men’s basketball team’s 95-71 win over Holy Cross on Tuesday night.
‘Stix’ is starting to play like ‘Logs’.
There was much talk in the preseason about former Mount Saint Joseph star Jalen Smith’s transformation because of the 30 pounds he had put on since the start of his freshman year. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon even joked that the 6-10, 225-pound sophomore forward’s nickname should reflect his new physique.
Nobody will mistake Smith with Bruno Fernando, and there were times early in the game when the Holy Cross guards seemed to be driving at will, with little or no resistance near the basket or at the rim from Smith or any of the other Maryland big men.
But after Turgeon put in four new players, including freshman center Makhi Mitchell, and talked on the bench to Smith about using his size and newfound strength at both ends of the floor, Smith started to take over the game and the Terps started to run away from the pesky Crusaders.
Asked about what he took away from what Turgeon told him, Smith said: “At that point, I know we made like three 3-pointers and missed probably like 15 [outside] shots. He just said, ‘Take it inside,’ and everybody just focused on the paint and we just tried to play our game off that.”
Smith had blocks on two straight Holy Cross possessions late in the first half, the first that he swatted out of bounds and the next that led to a fastbreak that Smith’s former high school teammate, Darryl Morsell, finished with a two-handed dunk right before the buzzer for a 51-39 lead.
That kind of energy and physicality continued for the second half, and after a quiet first half, in which he scored just six points on 2-for-8 shooting, Smith wound up with 16 points, shooting 5-for-7 in the second half, to go along with 11 rebounds and three blocks in just 25 minutes.
Though the level of competition and the setting was not the same, it was reminiscent of Smith’s performance in last year’s NCAA tournament, when he averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and threes against Belmont and LSU in Jacksonville, Florida.
It also reminded Morsell of the improvement Smith showed between his freshman and sophomore years in high school, when they were teammates at Mount Saint Joseph, as well as the trajectory Smith has been on since they met when the two were in middle school.
“Seventh grade, couldn’t even walk and chew gum,” Morsell said with a smile.
“It’s crazy to see his progress,” Morsell said. “He works real hard. His hard work is just showing. He’s blocking shots. He’s impacting the game offensively inside and outside. But I think he has more. I’m going to keep pushing him. As a team, we’re going to keep pushing him. He’s just going to keep improving every day.”
Turgeon has said since the start of preseason practices in late September that freshman Donta Scott has been at a bit of a disadvantage with the other first-year players because he has been forced to learn both forward positions.
When he gets things figured out, he’s going to be an even bigger matchup nightmare.
On Tuesday night, Scott, who has been as much a revelation in the preseason as Eric Ayala was a year ago in terms of exceeding expectations, continued what he started in the secret scrimmage against Pittsburgh and the exhibition game last Friday against Division II Fayetteville State.
Coming off the bench along with Morsell, fellow freshman Makhi Mitchell and sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr., Scott finished with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting, to go along with six rebounds, four of them offensive boards. The one disappointment was Scott missing all three of his free-throw attempts.
At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Scott reminds longtime Maryland fans of former star Keith Booth because of the toughness he brings. With the way he plays downhill and gets to the basket with his strength, he also has a little bit of Dez Wells and even Morsell in him.
“Donta, he’s just an animal, he’s just a different breed,” Jalen Smith said.
The Terps took 76 shots against Holy Cross, making 37. Little did Maryland know that it had made history in the Turgeon era.
It was the most field goals Maryland had attempted in regulation in the nine seasons since Turgeon became coach in 2011-12. The previous high was 75 in the 2012-13 season opener against No. 3 Kentucky at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The most shots the Terps took in any game were 79 at Clemson in a double-overtime game in 2013-14, Maryland’s last season in the ACC.
The high last season was 69 against Belmont in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and Turgeon’s team averaged a shade over 56 field-goal attempts per game.
While much of it was dictated by the pace the Crusaders played with under first-year coach Brett Nelson, a former assistant to Duke and Cardinal Gibbons star Steve Wojciechowski at Marquette, it’s also a new direction for the Terps.
“I just think it was the game, because they played fast,” Turgeon said. “Teams are not going to come in here and play that way every night. I loved it. I think our guys had fun with it.”
Turgeon had promised in the preseason that his team, because of its athleticism and depth, would play faster. Except for jacking up a few quick 3′s in the second half after the outcome had been decided, Turgeon was happy with what he saw.
"I just wish we would have shot a little better. We would have had 100-and-something up on the board,” said Turgeon, whose team was just 5-for-27 on 3-point shots and 16-for-24 from the free-throw line.
Often criticized for turning the ball over too much for a team that generates most of its offense in half-court sets, Maryland committed just eight turnovers despite the increase in tempo.
“We practice that way every day, so if you come watch us practice, we’re getting up and down,” Turgeon said. “We’re playing fast. And so we like that. We know we have to get better in our half-court offense. We know we have to get better in our half-court defense, but it’s Nov. 5, so we have a lot of time to get better.”