If Kevin Willard thought his team’s first half performance in Sunday’s Asheville Championship clash with UAB was subpar — the Terps recorded nine turnovers including five in the final five minutes — the coach wasn’t ready for what was about to hit him.
Maryland men’s basketball entered the second period with a 30-24 advantage. That lead quickly evaporated. UAB guard Eric Gaines drew three free throws on a Donta Scott shooting foul, then slammed home a dunk off a Noah Batchelor turnover all within the first 90 seconds. That tied the game at 30, leading to a quick Willard timeout.
The Blazers took command shortly after, going on a 13-0 run to take a 46-36 lead. Despite a few scares from Maryland (1-2) down the stretch, the Blazers (1-2) never looked back from there, claiming a 66-63 win. After falling to Davidson on Friday, Willard’s team finished in last place in the Asheville Championship.
“The two [live-ball] turnovers in the first half really changed the momentum of the game,” Willard said. “I thought we were dominating, really playing well defensively … just kind of kept them hanging around the game.”
Gaines was the best player on the floor for either team. The junior recorded 20 points on 13 shots, making some tough ones while also capitalizing on Maryland’s sloppiness with a few easy buckets.
Julian Reese recorded just five points and fouled out for the first time this season. The junior seemed to have put his foul issues behind him in the first two games of the season, but some of his sophomore-season deficiencies began to reveal themselves again on Sunday.
Willard opted to shake up the starting lineup for the first time this season, inserting Noah Batchelor in place of Jordan Geronimo. The sophomore gave Maryland’s offense a new look, spacing along the three-point arc to give Jahmir Young and DeShawn Harris-Smith open driving lanes.
“I’m seeing guys get a little bit more comfortable out there [with the rotations],” Willard said. “But it’s still a major work in progress, when we get in foul trouble … they went small on us … I think that’s still gonna be a little bit of a work in progress.”
But it wasn’t Batchelor who played the majority of the game on the wing — instead, it was freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr., who recorded a career-high 22 minutes. Kaiser netted a +7 in the opening half, the second-best rating on the team to that point. Willard couldn’t keep him off the floor for long as his defensive intensity and threat as a shooter proved invaluable.
After struggling mightily through the first two games, Willard made it a clear emphasis to get Donta Scott going early. The fifth-year forward led the Terps in points at the half with seven and sported a team-best +9 plus-minus.
Scott took Maryland’s third shot of the game, an open three that didn’t fall. He then got the ball back on the Terps’ ensuing offensive possession, capitalizing on good low-post positioning with a turnaround jumper.
Maryland’s offense hummed in the middle portion of the first half, taking an 11-point lead after a Reese dunk. But the Terps sputtered to end the half, recording five turnovers in the final five minutes. The sloppy play allowed UAB to cut the deficit to just six heading into the halftime break.
The turnover woes continued in the second half. The Blazers continued to capitalize on the Terps’ mental mistakes, tying their season-high with 15 total giveaways.
As the sloppy play continued over from the Davidson game, so did the lackluster three-point shooting. Maryland shot 6-for-23 from beyond the arc — that 26 percent clip is the highest the team has recorded through three games after shooting 19 percent and 22 percent in the first two games.
Maryland had high expectations for its roster entering this season. It had hopes of reaching higher than its second-round exit in last year’s NCAA tournament. But after losing to Davidson, a team that finished 140th in KenPom in 2022-23, and UAB, the runner-ups in last season’s NIT tournament, the Terps have a significant amount of soul-searching to do.
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