College Park — The Maryland men’s basketball team’s first game in 16 days maybe didn’t go according to script, but the end result was just as satisfying.
The Terps withstood a tougher-than-expected opening before relying on its power in the post and free throws to pull away in the second half for a 76-55 rout of visiting Lehigh Tuesday night before an announced 9,783 at the Xfinity Center.
In its first game since a 70-68 upset of then-No. 20 Florida on Dec. 12 at the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Maryland shook off the cobwebs to improve to 7-4. Seven players scored, a group headlined by five players who reached double figures in senior shooting guard Eric Ayala (20 points), junior power forward Donta Scott (17), freshman power forward Julian Reese (12), junior center Qudus Wahab (11) and junior shooting guard Hakim Hart (10).
Scott and Wahab also shared game-high honors in rebounds with eight each, and Hart added five of his own.
That size in the post proved too much on the boards, as the Terps snagged 15 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Mountain Hawks, 47-27, overall. Maryland shot 42.1% (24-for-57) from the floor but struggled again beyond the arc, going 26.3% (5-for-19) from the 3-point line.
Ayala said the team was eager to put on a better showing in the second half after leading by only three at halftime.
“Just playing with more energy,” he said of Maryland’s success in the second half. “Starting out flat obviously wasn’t our idea. We’re capable of playing better.”
The Terps suffered a brief scare when graduate student point guard Fatts Russell took a tumble on an aborted drive to the basket with 8:56 left in the second half. Russell, who had compiled two points, five rebounds and three assists, stayed on the floor for several minutes before requiring assistance.
Russell did not put any weight on his right knee but stayed on the bench for much of the frame before leaving for the locker room.
After the game, interim coach Danny Manning said it appeared to him after watching a reply that Russell “banged knees” with an opposing player.
“I can’t give you a medical evaluation,” Manning said. “We’ll get him evaluated and go from there.”
Ayala said Russell “seemed all right” after the game. “He’s smiling and walking around pretty well,” Ayala added.
Nursing a 37-34 lead at halftime, Maryland scored the first eight points of the second half, while the Mountain Hawks — a last-minute replacement for Loyola Maryland, which had to pull out due to coronavirus issues within that program — were mired in a 3:37 drought.
Junior shooting guard Evan Taylor sank a pair of free throws to end the drought for Lehigh, but the Terps scored seven more unanswered points and never let the lead dip below 11 points.
Lehigh senior forward Jeameril Wilson scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed five rebounds, Taylor contributed 14 points and five rebounds and senior center Nic Lynch compiled 12 points and four rebounds. But the Mountain Hawks (1-10) dropped their fifth game in a row and have not won since Nov. 23 when they defeated Columbia, 79-72.
In the second half, Maryland seemed intent on taking advantage of its size in the post. The offense outscored the Mountain Hawks, 14-2, in the paint, and the team’s aggressiveness down low contributed to a 19-of-22 performance from the free-throw line in the game’s final 20 minutes. Overall, the Terps made 23 of 26 from the charity stripe.
“We challenged our guys to come out and play with a lot more energy,” Manning said. “I thought our guys did a good job of going to the bigs in the paint, and I thought our bigs were efficient with their touches in the paint.”
The Terps did not begin terribly fast, however. In fact, Lehigh was the more aggressive team from the start, scoring eight of its first 10 points in the paint against a much larger opponent.
After the Mountain Hawks took a 15-12 lead, they went scoreless over a 2:30 span. That allowed Maryland to score four straight points to take a 16-15 lead (the team’s second of the game) with 10:32 left in the first half.
Lehigh responded with four unanswered points of its own, but stumbled into another drought, going 3:26 without a point. The Terps took advantage by going on a 9-0 run for a 25-19 lead with 6:02 remaining.
Even after the Mountain Hawks scored five of the game’s next seven points over a 40-second stretch, Maryland answered again, scoring seven straight points capped by a layup from Scott for a 34-24 advantage with 2:40 left — its largest of the game to that point.
But Lehigh closed out the first half on a 10-3 run fueled by seven points from Taylor to narrow the deficit to 37-34. At halftime, Taylor led all scorers with 12 points and collected three rebounds, and he was joined by senior power forward Jeameril Wilson, who compiled 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Ayala paced the Terps with 10 points and two rebounds, while Reese, a Baltimore resident and St. Frances graduate, added seven points and three rebounds.
Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network Radio: 105.7 FM