COLLEGE PARK — As season openers go, Maryland men’s basketball’s against Mount St. Mary’s wasn’t easy or simple.
The host Terps labored through a few bouts of ineffectiveness and sloppy play, and the visiting Mountaineers refused to play the role of sacrificial lamb until midway through the second half when they wilted against a bigger and deeper Maryland squad that came away with a 68-53 victory Tuesday night at Xfinity Center.
The victory extended the Terps’ streak of season-opening wins to 10 and season-opening triumphs at home to 47, which trails only Villanova (56) and Arkansas (50).
Still, there were some areas of concern. The team shot just 18.8% from 3-point range (3 of 16) and committed 15 turnovers to Mount St. Mary’s 14. Coach Kevin Willard noted that the Terps turned the ball over 16 times in a scrimmage against Cincinnati and 15 times in a scrimmage against Virginia.
“We have to take better care of the ball,” he said. “I didn’t think we were good in transition. I thought we took some bad shots in transition. We just can’t turn it over that many times.”
Maryland’s advantage in size was embodied by junior power forward Julian Reese. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Baltimore native and St. Frances graduate split his game-high 18 points over both halves, towering over smaller defenders for a variety of hook shots and layups. He also led all players with eight rebounds.
“I felt like I still left a lot of points out there, and I could’ve gotten a few more rebounds,” Reese said. “Nonetheless, I’m very proud of myself and proud of my team for getting the win.”
Shooting guard DeShawn Harris-Smith became the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Terps since Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins did so against Delaware on Nov. 6, 2018. The 6-5, 215-pound Harris-Smith didn’t play like a rookie, however, leading all scorers at halftime with 10 points before finishing with 12 points, four rebounds, two steals, two assists and one block.
Harris-Smith, who grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, said family members and former high school teammates attended the game.
“A huge reason I came was because I was able to stay home and have a lot of friends and family come to the games,” he said. “Having 50 people here for me was great. It gave me a lot of confidence. It was definitely just fun. The atmosphere was great. I’m trying to be a winner. So definitely getting the win was the best part.”
Harris-Smith did deliver a scare to Maryland fans early in the second half. After trapping Mount St. Mary’s senior point guard Dakota Leffew along the sideline and forcing a turnover, Harris-Smith pulled up and crumpled to the floor, clutching his right knee in pain. After several hushed seconds, he limped off the court with a trainer, who used a massage gun on the knee. Harris-Smith did return to the game a few minutes later.
Their play offset somewhat quiet outings from two fifth-year starters, point guard Jahmir Young and small forward Donta Scott. Coming off a 2022-23 campaign in which he led the Terps in points (15.9 per game) and assists (3.1), Young did score 12 points, but he missed seven of 11 shots, whiffed on all three of his 3-point attempts and had just as many turnovers (four) as assists (four).
Scott — who, like Young, elected to return for another year — had nine points on 3 of 8 shooting, two rebounds and one steal.
If the Terps needed a reminder of the importance of remaining in the present, all they had to do was consider the plight of their Big Ten counterpart.
No. 4 Michigan State was stunned, 79-76, in overtime by James Madison in their season opener Monday night. The Spartans became the first top-five team in The Associated Press rankings to drop its season opener against an unranked opponent since the 2005 Michigan State squad lost to Hawaii.
Maryland avoided a similar fate but needed some time before distancing itself from the Mountaineers, who fell behind 7-2 less than four minutes in. But both offenses slipped into lengthy droughts with Mount St. Mary’s going 4:45 without a point and the Terps enduring a 4:07 skid.
Through the middle part of the half, Maryland couldn’t pull away from the Mountaineers, who stayed within four points every time the Terps sought to make a run. Finally, they embarked on a 15-5 spurt in the last 6:23 to take a 33-19 lead into halftime. Harris-Smith scored eight of his points, including a driving layup with three seconds left, to fuel the offense in that stretch.
Junior shooting guard Joshua Reaves led Mount St. Mary’s, which finished eighth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last winter, with 10 points. But Leffew, the team’s returning leader in points (13.1 per game) and assists (1.7), managed just eight points on 3 of 14 shooting and had four turnovers to two assists.
And the rest of the offense couldn’t find much rhythm behind the arc, shooting only 16.7% (2 of 12). Reaves produced all of the team’s 3-pointers by converting 2 of 3 chances.
“The potential for this group is high if they use this as a learning experience to get better because our offensive basketball was not very sharp today,” Mountaineers coach Dan Engelstad said. “Our defensive compete level was high, our resilience was great to see, and we’re going to need that to be a competitor in the MAAC this year. So there were a lot of bright spots. It was great to see our young guys compete, but there’s still room for growth, and that’s the fun part of being a coach.”
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