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‘You never know who’s going to go off’: Maryland men’s basketball to test balanced attack at Clemson

Maryland men’s basketball forward Donta Scott smiled when asked if he could believe the performance he had just watched from his teammate Hakim Hart, who scored a career-high 32 points Friday afternoon against Saint Peter’s.

After all, it tied Melo Trimble’s 32 against Northwestern in 2017 for the highest-scoring output at Maryland since Diamond Stone had 39 in a 2015 win over Penn State. And it came from a player who scored just 28 total points last year as a freshman.

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“I feel like any number of my guys can go out there and have a breakout game or crazy game,” the sophomore Scott said. “Not just Hakim, but other players too on the team.”

It was certainly the more diplomatic answer but maybe not too farfetched, given the team’s egalitarian approach to offense through the first two weeks of the season.

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After blowing out a quartet of mid-major programs, Maryland (4-0) will face its biggest test to date on Wednesday at Clemson (3-0) in its first matchup with a Power 5 team.

“It’ll be a good matchup. They’re going to test us,” coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday. “First road game. Even though the building won’t be sold out, they do get a few hundred fans or a couple thousand, I think. Just the whole environment will be a little different than what we’ve been used to. Hopefully, we’ll handle that well with veteran guys and the young guys will step up and play well also.”

The Terps entered the season needing to fill the offensive void created by the departures of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, who combined to average close to 32 points in 2019.

After four games, Maryland has seemingly flipped the script, leaving opponents to ponder who to game plan for on defense. Four players are averaging double figures, led by junior guard Eric Ayala’s 15.3 points per game. Junior forward Jairus Hamilton and senior guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) are not far behind, averaging 9.8 and 9.3, respectively.

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Much of Maryland’s offensive production has been the manifestation of preseason predictions from Turgeon. When asked weeks ago how to compensate for the loss of two All-Big Ten performers, Turgeon said he expected a jump in production from everyone. The team’s trio of returning upperclassmen leaders in Ayala, Morsell and Wiggins have all increased their scoring totals from last season. And the Terps have also seen promising improvements from sophomores Hart and Scott, both of whom have twice broken their career highs in points since the season began.

“It’s fun to have many different weapons to play with,” Ayala said. “It’s fun watching guys like Hakim and Donta kind of grow into their games and find a comfort zone from them. Just watching them as freshmen last year and then to now, where they’re a big piece of what we do offensively and defensively.

“Even the new guys, Jairus, he’s been playing well. Of course, Aaron and Darryl. Just having so many different weapons, it makes it hard for teams to scout us because you never know who’s going to go off and just having a lot of different weapons out there.”

While Maryland’s overall numbers are gaudy — the Terps’ effective field-goal percentage is ranked second in the country, according to KenPom — Turgeon said he anticipates they will drop over time, especially once the team enters its Big Ten schedule, where the pace will slow down and points will become harder to come by. Clemson’s adjusted defensive rating ranks ninth in the country, according to KenPom, by far the stingiest unit to date that Maryland will face. And the added impact of Maryland’s first true road game of the season — close to 2,000 fans will be allowed at Littlejohn Coliseum — won’t resemble the empty confines of the Xfinity Center.

While overall numbers might dip, Turgeon and players have continued to speak of the depth that will help the team as the season progresses. Several game cancellations because of coronavirus concerns over the past week have allowed for more practice time, giving a still fresh team time to install new plays and get players more comfortable in different positions and roles.

“I think we have seven starters on our roster this year,” Turgeon said. “And then we have some guys that are developing into being good players for us. I think it’s just our roster’s a little bit deep.”

ACC/BIG TEN CHALLENGE

MARYLAND@CLEMSON

Wednesday, 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN2 Radio: 105.7 FM

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