There were predictably unstable moments for a team full of new pieces and playing a real game together for the first time in a half-empty gym. But for Maryland basketball, the first installation of the Kevin Willard it was a solid proof. The Terps shot well from the outside, were energetic defensively and got good performances from their two expected top scorers in the season opener 71-49 win over Niagara on Monday night at Xfinity Center.
Dona Scott is ready for a great year … Scott’s burly body has always made his 6-foot-8 profile feel a little exaggerated, but after losing 25 pounds during the off-season, the senior striker looks longer. Optical illusions aside, he’s leaner and faster and has a chance to be a frontline Big Ten player.
Scott posted a record of 18 points and seven rebounds, scoring inside and out and showing his newfound elegance. He also shot 4 of 5 from deep, an encouraging sign after collapsing from deep last year. If Scott could go back to his second year of shooting, when he was one of the Big Ten’s top 3-point shooters, it would be a huge development for a team that doesn’t have a lot of goals. His increased speed will also help him on defense, where he quickly slipped into position for a charge he could not have sustained in years past. This was part of a defensive effort that saw Maryland retain Niagara with 40 percent overall shots and 22 points in the second half.
“Donta will be a player of 18 and 10,” Willard said. “I think he will become an All-Big Ten player on the first team. 35 minutes is probably too many minutes in his first game of him, but if he has earned it from his career than him here.”
Young gets over the shaky start … Jahmir Young got off to a slow start, looking like it might be a little too amplified for her first Maryland uniformed performance. But the senior point guard settled down and showed why he was one of the best point guards in the transfer portal.
After its slow start, Young finally entered the scoreboard with a towing bucket in the closing seconds of time. In the second half, you can see his energy build up after Maryland overturned him and Niagara turned him into a fast break score to bring it to four, 37-33. Young responded with a nice two-lane move to end a scoring drought. Ian Martinez he stole the ball and threw an alley-oop at Scott. The ball rolled out of the circle, but Young jumped and flipped it over again. Excited by his mini-run, he folded and the Niagara coach Greg Paulus time out. This triggered a run that saw Maryland building a comfortable lead.
Young isn’t the tallest or most athletic player, but he’s fast and relentless, the kind of mature player you love to get from the portal when you have a lean roster like Willard. He is done. Young, despite what could be a generous 6-1 slate, will give Maryland a rebound from point guard, averaging nearly five per game during his years at Charlotte. The Upper Marlboro native enjoyed his first time playing in front of a home crowd.
“It was exciting; it was fun,” Young said. “My whole family went out. All my friends and family. To get this first win in front of them was special.”
Quiet night for Reese … There has been a lot of hype about it Julian Reese, which Willard has predicted will be a first-team player of all the Big Ten this season or next. It was a quiet night for the 6-10 sophomore, which was burdened with a family problem from last year: trouble fouls. He picked up the second of him in the middle of the first half and was booed for his third three minutes in the second, playing
Unlike Marco Turgeon, who usually took out a key player with three fouls early in the second half, Willard stayed with Reese and never caught another foul. He shot 3 of 5 for seven points, took seven rebounds and blocked a shot in 26 minutes. Reese has a few things you can’t teach his size, especially his speed, and he’ll have better nights. But he still needs some polishing and more strength, and the big problem is that there is no real backup center.
Transfer Patrizio Emilia played 14 minutes and scored four points, giving energy to the team. Raw freshman Caelum Swanton-Rodger checked in late and got her first career bucket. But this position remains a concern and they no longer have aids on the roster. The Niagara took advantage of the Maryland’s lack of rim protection, going inside over and over for the baskets to stay in play. They overtook Maryland in the paint during the first half, 20-10 and 34-26 for the match. This will be a great challenge for Willard.
Other notes … Reserve guard Jahari Long (2-3, five points in 10 minutes) had some good moments and some crazy ones. Long has large size on guard at 6-5 and some directing skills, but you can see he has lost most of the last two seasons. He will need time to perfect his game. Serial number Noah Batchelor he checked in and immediately hit the first shot of his college career, a corner three on a feed from Ian Martinezwho provided a lot of energy in defense but shot 0 for 4. Georgetown transfer Donald Careywho is supposed to be a 3-point specialist, he failed to move forward in his first game as Terp, shooting 1 for 6 from 3. However, the Terps shot 9-20 from 3 points, beating Niagara 27-0.
Hakim Hart (3 out of 4, nine points) was his usual efficient self. Maryland beat Niagara on the counterattack, 17 points to 2, and scored 18 points on the bench. All 11 players who checked into the game for Maryland scored at least one point.
“It’s a great feeling. I’m proud of this team, proud of this staff. It’s been a crazy seven months to put this roster together and have these guys play,” Willard said. “We are not close to being good yet, but to make them play as hard as they are playing and as selfless as they are playing, I am proud of this staff and proud of these guys.”