It took Maryland some time to surge ahead, but eventually the matchup turned into a showcase for the Terrapins, with prominent displays of athleticism, improvement and depth.
“I was very confident going into this game that we were going to play pretty well. We weren't perfect, but we played pretty well,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “... Tonight was more about us, getting my team better and getting us working on things that we need to get better at. But it's always fun. And this year could be a lot of fun.”
Holy Cross brought plenty of pace to College Park, so the Terps scored more points in their opener than they did in all but one game last season, and they took their most shots since 2014. Four players finished in double figures, led by 16 points from sophomore forward Jalen Smith, even though he shot 2-for-8 in the first half. His talent will push him to the forefront of this group, but he has many others around him offering help.
Despite some mistakes — particularly defensively early and from beyond the three-point arc throughout — Tuesday’s win will come as a welcome debut for this new squad. Maryland’s ability shined throughout the lineup, from senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. with 12 points down to newcomer Donta Scott, who scored nine and played with un-freshman-like physicality.
Darryl Morsell, usually a starter the past two seasons, came off the bench but still proved to be one of Maryland’s best players. He notched 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting with equally impressive numbers across his stat line: four assists, no turnovers, five rebounds and three steals. His steal-and-score midway through the first half ignited a 12-2 run. Morsell scored six points during that stretch, which came after the Terps had struggled to push ahead.
“I saw the starters needed a spark, needed something to get us going,” Morsell said. “And I just tried to provide that.”
With the score tied at 16 after six minutes, Turgeon opted to substitute four players at once, taking out all of his starters except Cowan. The Terps switched to their zone defense, and the lineup of mostly reserves began the surge that put them ahead.
Maryland needed until early in the second half to start running away from Holy Cross, which finished last season ranked 239th of 353 Division I teams in Ken Pomeroy’s analytics-based rankings. But the Terps had plenty of positive takeaways: Smith turning his slow start into a solid night, Morsell’s dominant performance and just eight turnovers.
Maryland dominated in the paint but had trouble hitting shots from deep. Sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr., one of the bench players who contributed to the early run, made two three-pointers in the first half, but none of his teammates made one until Eric Ayala did so as the second half neared its midpoint. The Terps finished the night shooting just 5 for 27 from three-point range.
Aaron Wiggins, who started after coming off the bench last year as a freshman, didn’t make any of his six attempts from three, but Turgeon said after the game he has never worried about Wiggins’s ability to make shots.
“It was the first night, a lot of jitters,” Cowan said. “It usually happens, especially on the first night, especially for a team like this that has a lot of young guys on the team. But me included, we just didn't hit shots. But that also shows how good our offense is.”
That’s because Maryland still scored 95 points. The Terps played fast and improved after a slow start against a team with a new coach (meaning they had no video to study), and the freshmen played meaningful minutes in their debut. It was still just a Tuesday in November, but it also was the start of a promising season.