Among Maryland men’s basketball’s big three, Donta Scott got off to the slowest start.
While junior power forward Julian Reese (St. Frances) enjoyed game-bests in points (18) and rebounds (eight) and fifth-year senior point guard Jahmir Young compiled 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in Tuesday night’s 68-53 season-opening victory over Mount St. Mary’s at Xfinity Center in College Park, Scott had nine points, two rebounds and one steal while playing a game-high 35 minutes.
The Terps (1-0) are leaning on the 6-foot-8, 230-pound fifth-year senior to be a critical cog, and maybe Scott knocked off some rust in the season opener. Coach Kevin Willard didn’t seem worried about Scott, who started at small forward with senior Jordan Geronimo (an Indiana transfer) at power forward.
“I’m doing that because I feel there’s four or five teams in the Big Ten that I think we’re going to have to play a little bit bigger,” he said. “It’s tough to play against smaller teams sometimes when you’re bigger. But I think [Scott] played great. I’ve just got to get him more involved in the offense, and that’s a tough lineup for me to do that.”
Here are three more takeaways from the game.
Maryland’s bench is deeper, and that’s a dilemma
Unlike last season when the Terps relied consistently on eight players, 11 players saw the floor Tuesday night, and nine of them were on the court longer than 10 minutes each.
Willard went to 25 combinations of players. Naturally, the most successful group was the starting five of Geronimo, Reese, Scott, Young and freshman shooting guard DeShawn Harris-Smith, who totaled 17 points when they were on the floor together.
Willard chastised himself for his player rotations.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do with that, to be honest with you,” he said. “That’s the first time we’ve had 11 guys able to play. So I felt like I spent too much trying to sub and not enough time trying to figure some things out. So I’ve got a lot of work to do with that.”
Willard pointed out that minor injuries have kept players out of practice, forcing him to mix and match. He said sophomore center Caelum Swanton-Rodger had been practicing for only a week, sophomore forward Noah Batchelor was out for three weeks, freshman forward Jamie Kaiser Jr. was out for four days and freshman center Braden Pierce and sophomore forward Mady Traore have missed some time.
Developing chemistry will be a priority for Maryland as it prepares to clash with Davidson on Friday night and either Clemson or UAB on Sunday afternoon at the Asheville Championship Tournament in Asheville, North Carolina.
“It was definitely different, guys coming back off of ticky-tack injuries,” Reese said. “It was a great thing to get it out of the way early in the season. We’ve got another test on Friday with Davidson. With our team fully back — knock on wood — I feel like we’re going to be good.”
Harris-Smith wasn’t the only freshman who stood out for Maryland
Harris-Smith, the program’s most high-profile recruit in recent memory, put a scare into many of the announced 14,044 in attendance when he appeared to injure his right knee while trapping Mount St. Mary’s senior point guard Dakota Leffew along the sideline early in the second half.
After getting some treatment via a massage gun, Harris-Smith returned to the game four minutes later. Afterward, he revealed that the cause was a cramp.
“The manager was making fun of me just now because I was being a little too dramatic,” he said. “It was just a little cramp.”
The cramp was the only hiccup for Harris-Smith, who racked up 12 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one assist in 27:38 in his debut. Even before he scored his first point, he stole the ball twice and blocked a shot in a 50-second span early in the first half.
“I was trying to be a player that plays the hardest every single game,” he said of that frenetic stretch. “It takes no time to go out there and block shots and get a steal. It’s all about how bad you want it. I feel like I was out there just trying to play hard and make plays for my team.”
Harris-Smith wasn’t the only freshman who contributed. He was joined by two classmates, small forward Jamie Kaiser Jr. (five points, two rebounds in 14:20) and shooting guard Jahnathan Lamothe (no stats in 2:42).
Willard called the freshmen “phenomenal.”
“I thought they did fantastic, especially from a defensive standpoint,” he said. “They were in the right spots, they made the right rotations, they didn’t hurt us defensively. Offensively, they’re going to have their struggles, and they’re going to have their games when they play really well. I thought all three of them played really well.”
Mount St. Mary’s also got some encouraging results from its freshmen
In his first game in nearly a year, junior shooting guard Joshua Reaves led the Mountaineers with 10 points and made their only two 3-pointers of the game. And a combined 13 rebounds from graduate student small forward George Tinsley and junior power forward Jedy Cordilia made the much-bigger Terps’ rebounding advantage only three.
And like Maryland, the Mountaineers might have found some unexpected sources of production from their three freshmen. Shooting guard Dallas Hobbs scored nine points in 22:16, shooting guard De’Shayne Montgomery compiled eight points and two assists in 18:33, and power forward Ronald Jessamy finished with seven points and six rebounds in just 7:14.
If Mount St. Mary’s is going to improve on last season’s eighth-place finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, contributions like those from those first-year players might determine how competitive the team can be in its second season in the league.
“We really like their talent level,” coach Dan Engelstad said. “They just have to learn the Division I game, and that’s the way they’re going to get better — through experience. They got some really good experience tonight. It was good for them to see what it was like in our exhibitions, but nothing can supplement a crowd like that. You’ve got to be able to get into those atmospheres and play, and the good thing is the lights weren’t too big. That’s what we saw from our freshmen tonight.”
Asheville Championship Tournament
Maryland vs. Davidson
Friday, 7 p.m.
Radio: 105.7 FM