By Jack Rothenberg
Head coach Kevin Willard made his Maryland debut Monday night in College Park and secured his first win over the Niagara Purple Eagles 71-49. In addition to Willard, six Terps donned a Maryland jersey for the first time and heavily contributed to the win.
Before the season, Willard mentioned two things that would be displayed on the court. Fast play and a lot of three point shots. His words lived up to the hype.
The Terps’ revamped offensive play style featured quick cuts and passes, along with 20 three point field goal attempts. Maryland started five of seven from beyond the arc and took a 24-10 lead at the under 12 timeout.
On the defensive side of the ball, Maryland’s press started instantly. Following a Hakim Hart made jumper to open the game, the Purple Eagles saw defenders right in their face. After every made basket, the Terps’ picked up full-court and not only slowed Niagara’s offense, but forced turnovers as well.
Junior guard Ian Martinez (2 points and 5 steals), known as a hard nose defender, thrived in Willard’s system. Maryland’s constant pressure, benefits Martinez’s play style and his reinvented shooting form gave him more opportunities on offense as well.
On the contrary, a downside to Willard’s play style is when the Terps aren’t able to knock down shots. After the under 12 timeout, Maryland went on a scoring drought of just over three minutes which allowed Niagara to creep back within seven points. The Terps never fully recovered from that stretch and went into the break leading 34-27.
Willard said after the game that this stretch was his fault and a coaching error. “I have to figure out my secondary rotation. We were in a really good offensive rhythm, we were scoring, and then I put two lineups out there that really haven’t practiced together and it was very evident,” Willard said.
To open the second half, it wasn’t much better. The Terps struggled to rebound and weren’t able to make shots. Maryland went into the under 16 timeout up 39-35.
The Terps came out of the break with a new profound effort. A 9-0 run, led by ramped up defensive play, created easy baskets for Maryland and a 48-35 advantage. Another late run for the Terps, highlighted by two Donta Scott threes, put Niagara to bed.
Willard credited the turnaround to Senior guard Jahmir Young. “(Young) changed the tempo on offense, and then he changed it on defense. Everyone reacts to how your point guard is playing,” Willard said.
Young (14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists) is one of those six new Terps to join the team this year. He transferred this off-season from Charlotte, and is originally from the Maryland area. Young engineered the offense from the tip and his teammates are following his lead. “He’s a great teammate (and) he shares the ball. He’s very fast, so it creates a lot of opportunities for us,” Scott said.
One thing that Niagara exposed was Maryland’s rebounding. The Purple Eagles had the advantage most of the night and cashed in on the offensive glass, with 13 offensive boards. “We didn’t do a good job. Especially in the first half and early in the second half. I feel like they were out hustling us and they were tougher than us…we’re going to fix it and be ready for Thursday,” Young said.
Maryland faces Western Carolina on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Xfinity Center.
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