Maryland Basketball (3-3, 0-0 Big Ten) takes on the MAAC preseason favorite Rider Broncs (1-4, 0-0 MAAC) in non-conference action at home. What are the keys for a Terrapins victory?
With losses in three of their first four games, it hasn’t been the most inspiring start to the season for Maryland Basketball. However, a stretch of home games offers an opportunity to right the ship and correct notable issues before conference play. The Terrapins enter this game having won two straight over UMBC and South Alabama, respectively. Jahmir Young paces UMD with 14.8 points per game, and JuJu Reese adds 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Although voted the preseason favorite in the MAAC, the Rider Broncs also haven’t had the strongest start to the season, coming in with a 1-4 record following a 55-48 loss to Stony Brook. Preseason MAAC Player of the Year Mervin James leads the way with his efficient 15.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. This will be Rider’s fifth consecutive game on the road. The Broncs are already fairly battle-tested (fourth in Strength of Schedule per KenPom) and hope to catch the Terps sleeping. Here are three keys for Maryland to avoid an upset.
1. Keep Up Defensive Pressure
Maryland enters this matchup ranked 17th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency per KenPom. The Terps’ stout defense matches up well with a Rider squad possessing the third-lowest Adjusted Offensive Rating in the country. The Broncs also don’t score out in transition much with just 10.57 fast break points per 100 possessions.
Rider certainly has weapons, but they’ve really struggled to be efficient and Maryland will be the highest-rated KenPom defense they’ve played so far. If Kevin Willard’s squad can maintain focus on the defensive end, they shouldn’t have too much trouble forcing miscues.
2. Win the Battle on the Interior
One of Maryland’s biggest struggles so far has been perimeter play. The Terrapins are a bottom-10 squad in three-point shooting, converting just 21.4% of their looks from behind the arc. They are especially vulnerable to squads that can get hot from distance. Fortunately, Rider doesn’t look to be one. The Broncs are also bottom-10 in three-point shooting, hitting at a 22.5% clip.
It’s highly unlikely this will be a game won via the perimeter. The battle on the interior will be crucial for success, especially given that Rider’s strength lies down low. Against Marquette, senior forward Mervin James finished with 15 points and sophomore forward T.J. Weeks Jr. put up 14 points and 12 rebounds. James also had 15 and 10 versus Duquesne and 19 and nine in Rider’s last game against Stony Brook.
UMD junior big JuJu Reese has had a solid start to the campaign and is coming off a dominant 19-point, 15-rebound, four-block showing against South Alabama where he shot 87.5% from the field. Continuing that sort of performance versus Rider and impacting both sides of the ball will give Maryland a huge leg up. Donta Scott has fallen into more of a “glue guy” role this year, but he has still contributed 11 points per game. He’ll need to supplement Reese’s production down low while helping limit Rider’s frontcourt playmakers.
3. Get DeShawn Harris-Smith Going
DeShawn Harris-Smith was Maryland’s prized recruit entering the 2023-24 season. Thus far, he’s shown promising flashes. The 6’5″ freshman has done a little bit of everything: getting to the rim, facilitating, rebounding, bringing the ball up the floor, and jumping passing lanes for steals. With a few games of experience under his belt, this matchup with Rider presents an excellent opportunity to really get him going. DHS has the talent to be in the running for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s only averaging seven points per game on a paltry 34.0% from the field, 5.6% from three (!), and 53.8% from the line.
Because perimeter shooting likely won’t be a deciding factor against Rider, DeShawn Harris-Smith has more freedom to work things out, get comfortable, and build confidence. His flashes of two-way impact have been encouraging, but it’s time for those flashes to become consistent performance, especially when it comes to scoring the ball.