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Three takeaways from Maryland basketball’s 85-67 season-opening win over Old Dominion

In a season opener in which 13 Maryland men’s basketball players got on the court, a trio of upperclassmen led the group in reassuring fashion.

Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 85-67 win over Old Dominion on Wednesday afternoon.

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Maryland’s core got off to the strong start it needed.

Senior guard Darryl Morsell got the 2020 season rolling with a corner 3-pointer. Then junior guard Eric Ayala scored off a strong drive and finish in the paint. Morsell then delivered a precise bounce pass to senior forward Galin Smith, who slammed home a dunk that would have erupted the Xfinity Center crowd if there were fans present.

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The two returning upperclassmen starters were heavily involved in Maryland’s offense from tipoff, as Ayala scored a team-high 19 points and Morsell added 12. And while junior guard Aaron Wiggins, the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, got off to a slow start offensively in his return to the starting lineup, he finished with 12 points, one of four Terps to score in double figures.

It was the type of aggressive mentality coach Mark Turgeon said would be required of the three as they try to fill the void from the departures of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith.

Ayala finished a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and hit all four of his 3-point attempts. He was especially fearless and undeterred driving past defenders to take tough shots in the paint. Morsell stuffed the stat sheet with a team-high eight rebounds and four assists.

“[Wiggins] was aggressive, made some big-time plays off the dribble, stepback 3, different things, things that we see every day,” Turgeon said. “So it was great to see him be aggressive. I kind of had a feeling Eric was going to play well. He practiced well the last two days, was really into it [Wednesday morning]. ... And then Darryl was terrific. Darryl was guarding. ... We took Darryl out with seven minutes to go in the game and we weren’t quite the same team.”

Turgeon’s talk of depth might not be lip service.

It was just the first game of the season but the substitutions that Turgeon was able to bring out halfway through the first half were notable. It included sophomore forward Donta Scott, who started 21 games last season, sophomore guard Hakim Hart, who worked his way into the rotation late last season, and sophomore center Chol Marial, an intriguing big man who could give Maryland a new dimension in the frontcourt if healthy.

After fiddling with his lineup and rotation last season, Turgeon settled on bringing Wiggins off the bench to provide his second unit with some scoring punch and Wiggins flourished in the role. Scott now seems primed for the same duty.

Scott, a Philadelphia native, scored a career-high 14 points in 16 minutes and added seven rebounds. Marial scored a career-high seven points in his most extensive playing time to date. And while Hart did not make a field goal, Turgeon acknowledged his smart play on the court.

Through stretches of last season, Turgeon seemed wary to tap into his bench of mainly inexperienced players and instead opted to lean on his strong six-man rotation. The results worked in Maryland’s favor, but it brought forth constant questions about how long Turegon could ride his starters, particularly Cowan and Jalen Smith at the time.

“Us having a deep team, it helps everybody not [say], ‘Oh this guy is better than this guy,’” Scott said. “We see each other as equals and we’re just going to fight. And just having a deep team gives a bunch of guys a lot of energy. Because you can take one guy out and then it’d be the next best thing or similar to that guy.”

Maryland’s frontcourt will be a committee effort.

In 40 minutes, it was easy to see that Maryland likely won’t feature the type of big man that has manned the post in recent years. There’s no Jalen Smith, Bruno Fernando or even Diamond Stone this season.

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Against an Old Dominion team that didn’t test Maryland physically, the Terps only out-rebounded the Monarchs by three. The 6-foot-9 Galin Smith and 6-8 Hamilton don’t possess the height to constantly dominate centers and forwards in the Big Ten. And Hamilton, who attempted three of his seven shots from long range, might contain a skill set that allows him to work better on the perimeter.

Turgeon said Marial is almost 100% after last year’s surgery and he looked the part in spurts. But it will take some time before Marial can make a real impact and become the player he was projected to be years ago in high school. At the worst, he provides a 7-foot-2 body who can contest shots and wear down smaller players in the paint.

In past seasons, Maryland played through Jalen Smith or Fernando, leaning on NBA-level talents for hard buckets in key moments. This year’s Terps team might not have that luxury, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Maryland’s 2020 iteration just has a different composition to it and it’s up to Turgeon to highlight its strengths.

NAVY@MARYLAND

Friday, 3 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network 

Radio: 105.7 FM

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