Maryland men’s basketball will tip-off Thursday’s home contest against Western Carolina at 7 pm on BTN+ (subscription). The Terps picked up a win in their season opener against Niagara, 71-49, but the contest was not one of comfort for this group of mostly new pieces.
“I was nervous. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “Everything was totally new. Even though I’ve been here seven months, I hadn’t [experienced gameday] yet. From going out the wrong tunnel — I did, yeah — the security guard yelled at me, I was like ‘My bad, it’s where I went out last time I was here’… To be the head coach at the University of Maryland is an honor, and I take great pride in it. I understand the great responsibility that I have.”
The Terps only trailed once Monday, 4-3, en route to the 22-point victory over the Purple Eagles. The team showed off Willard’s system of pressing and playing up-tempo, offering excitement to fans even if it was not a finished product.
“I thought we picked up a lot of things,” Willard said. “I thought our press was okay. I think the biggest thing is that we didn’t play very good and we were kind of in control most of the game — I never felt like we were going to lose the game.”
With the short turnaround for Thursday, the team will have to rely on building confidence to keep progressing forward.
“I think the players are glad we got our first game jitters out,” Willard said. “I don’t loosen up until April. But the players feel a lot better about having those first-game jitters because there were a lot of first-game jitters.”
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Western Carolina (0-1)
Last season: (11-21, 5-13 SoCon)
Head coach: justin gray (2nd season)
Players to watch: Guard Tre Jackson (6-foot-1, SR), Forward Tyzhaun Claude (6-foot-8, R-JR)
Western Carolina was led by the duo of Claude and Jackson which combined for 35 of the team’s 55 points in the season-opener. Claude also led the team with seven rebounds and Jackson led with six assists with other players filling in numbers but not standing out. Their coach, justin gray, might sound familiar; he starred at Wake Forest when Maryland was in the ACC, scoring nearly 2,000 career points.
Strength: Free throw shooting and turnovers. Not much went right for Western Carolina in its season-opening loss to Georgia, 68-55, but forcing 21 turnovers and getting to the line stood out. The Catamounts were able to perform better than the Bulldogs at the charity stripe, going 9-11 with three people taking shots from the line, but only managed 16 points off turnovers.
Weakness: Field goal percentage. The Catamounts struggled in their season opener on both ends of the floor, shooting just 35.1% and allowing Georgia to shoot 49.1%. Maryland was rather effective shooting on Monday, shooting 49 percent from the floor, including a 45 percent mark from three-point range. If the Terps can continue their strong defensive showing and avoid going cold, Thursday could be another smooth game.