Three takeaways from No. 5 Maryland’s 84-63 win over Marquette in Orlando Invitational championship

The Maryland men’s basketball team changed its starting lineup Sunday, with sophomore guard Eric Ayala starting for the first time since the season opener. Here are three takeaways from the No. 5 Terps’ 84-63 victory over Marquette at the Orlando Invitational.

By going small, the Terps started fast.


Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had been fighting the urge all season, ever since he brought junior guard Darryl Morsell off the bench in the season opener against Holy Cross on Nov. 5 and then put Morsell back in the starting lineup and used sophomore guard Eric Ayala as the sixth man for six straight games.

Mostly based on matchups, and partly because the Terps had started so poorly in seven-point wins over Temple and Harvard at the Orlando Invitational, Turgeon gave in to his feelings about starting his five best players, even if it meant using sophomore forward Jalen Smith as the team’s lone big man.


The result? Maryland had its best start of the three games at the HP Field House and played one of its most complete games in recent memory under Turgeon. Ayala provided another ball-handler and facilitator while Smith played the role of rim protector, and the Terps blew out their highest-rated opponent (No. 31 according to Kenpom.com) this season.

“We started the small lineup because I thought it was the best way to match up,” Turgeon said. “The small lineup is our best five players. It’s not always the best way to play in a game. And I thought ‘Stix’ [a nickname for Smith] was great for the small lineup, rebounding and protecting the rim. I thought he was terrific in the game."

While Smith had a couple of early blocks at the rim and three in the first half, Ayala and Morsell were the catalysts for the team’s fast start, especially when they were playing with freshmen Donta Scott, Makhi Mitchell and Hakim Hart for a short, but key, stretch in the first half.

Coming out of the first media timeout leading 13-11 after a tip-in by Hart, Ayala found Scott cutting to the basket. Scott was fouled and made both free throws. Two possessions later, Ayala whipped a pass in the corner to Scott, who hit a 3. Morsell then followed with the first of his two deep 3s.

The Terps’ freshmen came through.

Turgeon, who had been allowing his freshmen to play through their mistakes in some of the team’s early season blowout wins, saw his confidence in them pay off. They helped start an 11-0 run that allowed Maryland to take control of the game by halftime. As a group, they scored nine of Maryland’s first 18 points.

Scott finished with seven points and two steals in nearly 14 minutes and had a plus-18 rating, the highest on the team. Mitchell had four points and six rebounds in 10 minutes. Though Hart had just the tip-in in his nine minutes, he has already proven himself as a willing passer and a more-than-adequate defender.

“It was really cool, wasn’t it?” Turgeon said of the freshmen playing a big role in the early run. “Hakim made the tip, Donta hit the 3, we went to Makhi and he bulled the guy right to the rim. It was good. What a relief. We had some great depth. It was good to see. We’re on those guys all the time about everything — academics, the way they act — and so they’re really maturing quickly, which is good to see."

Asked if his team is now more deserving of its top-five ranking (the Terps jumped to No. 3 on Monday), Turgeon said: “We’re getting closer to the team I thought we would be. Sometimes it takes a tournament like that to get there.”

Here’s where things will get tricky as Turgeon attempts to rotate as many players as he can.

Sophomores Ricky Lindo Jr., who was expected to play a bigger role this season, and Serrel Smith Jr., who was hoping to see his minutes grow too, didn’t play against Marquette after barely getting off the bench against Harvard. Neither played well in short stints against Temple. Neither Hart nor fellow freshman Makhel Mitchell were expected to play more than the two sophomores.

It’s a good problem for Turgeon to have as Big Ten play approaches Saturday against Illinois at home after the Terps take on Notre Dame at the Xfinity Center Wednesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Practices, which have been very competitive this season, will be interesting in the coming days.


There is also the fact that freshman center Chol Marial, who has not played after undergoing surgery to insert titanium rods in both legs to help prevent a recurrence of shin splints, could be back later this month. Barring any setbacks, Marial should be ready when Big Ten play resumes in early January.

The 7-foot-2 Marial has shown in his post-practice workouts with assistant coach Matt Brady to be a better-than-average mid-range shooter for a big man known more as a defensive nightmare because of his 8-foot wing span.

Maryland guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (1) takes a shot between Marquette center Jayce Johnson (34) and Marquette guard Koby McEwen (25) during an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Audette)
Maryland guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (1) takes a shot between Marquette center Jayce Johnson (34) and Marquette guard Koby McEwen (25) during an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Audette) (Scott Audette/AP)

Maryland is still settling for too many 3-pointers.

If there is still a concern when it comes to Maryland’s offense, it’s the 3-point shooting. It’s not just that the Terps are shooting at a low percentage — 31.6% for the season — but that they often shoot too quickly.

It happened Sunday against Marquette. After hitting six of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half to build a 21-point lead — including a 25-foot straightaway 3 by senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. right before the halftime buzzer — Maryland was just four of 18 in the second half.

Cowan, who has raised his 3-point shooting to a career-best 42.1%, took a 3 just 11 seconds into the second half. After he was fouled going for the rebound, sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins launched a 3 just seven seconds into the shot clock.

But just as Cowan tried to get the ball back and drew a foul, Wiggins followed his own miss and put down a thunderous dunk.

Many of the later 3-point misses came with the Golden Eagles sitting back in a zone and the Terps either shooting too quickly or hesitant in attacking the rim. One of the biggest shots came on what Turgeon deemed his team’s “worst” half-court possession, when Cowan buried a late 3 after Marquette had cut a 25-point deficit to 12.

“I kept telling them our zone offense is fine, we’ve just got to step up and make a play,” said Turgeon, whose team made 21 of 36 shots inside the 3-point line and 12 of 16 from the free-throw line. “We made some layups and got to the foul line against it, so that helped us.”

Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Notre Dame@No. 3 Maryland


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