Jairus Hamilton had kept an eye on Maryland basketball throughout his recruiting process, following the program even after he decided to attend Boston College. The forward watched how other big men were utilized in Mark Turgeon’s system.
He liked how the coach used former Terrapins star Jalen Smith, now with the Phoenix Suns, who had a green light at Maryland to post up on a player or step out and hit a three. Hamilton felt he could do similar things given the opportunity, pushing him to choose College Park as his transfer destination this offseason.
Hamilton’s role within the offense hasn’t yet been defined, Turgeon said.
But during Sunday’s 79-61 win over Mount St. Mary’s, Hamilton flashed his self-described versatility to stave off an upset bid. The 6-foot-8 forward knocked down three triples as part of his 13 points, and he drove the lane and finished between two defenders with a step-through for another basket.
Working Hamilton into the lineup is still a work in progress, but Sunday’s performance showed progress is being made.
“He’s versatile,” guard Eric Ayala said. “He shot the ball well today from three, and that’s just a small part of his game. He can do so much. He can drive. Defensively, he can switch out on guards, and guard wings and bigs. He’s been phenomenal since he’s been here.”
Facing a Mountaineers squad that hung around for much of the game, Hamilton — along with four other scorers who finished in double-figures — gave Maryland a much-needed boost. After the Terrapins’ 10-point lead withered into a two-point deficit with under nine minutes to play, Hamilton’s trey pushed his team back in front for good.
That basket helped spark a 21-point run. And it was Hamilton who bookended that stretch, corralling a pass from Donta Scott in the lane and finishing with a two-handed slam, a punctuation mark on an all-around outing that included five rebounds and two assists.
“I think I’m a really good passer and finding people in the right spots and everything,” Hamilton said. “Just trying to figure out having my opportunities where I can go create for myself and create for my teammates as well.”
Mount St. Mary’s made Maryland work for its third win of the season, though.
The Mountaineers’ lead grew to nine — with Jalen Gibbs contributing four threes in the first eight minutes, part of his 19 points — before Turgeon’s squad came back. The full-court press slowed down Mount St. Mary’s, and Hakim Hart came off the bench to knock down consecutive triples, handing Maryland its first lead.
That set the stage for Ayala’s late scoring burst, establishing a 41-32 edge at halftime. But the Terrapins allowed the Mountaineers back into the contest in the second half. A step-back 3-pointer from Damian Chong Qui and a lay-in from Malik Jefferson gave Mount St. Mary’s the lead once more.
“That was frustrating, because they were making a lot of those shots today,” Turgeon said.
The surge from the Mountaineers prompted Turgeon to ramp up the defensive pressure, which in turn led to an offensive spurt. Scott hit a pair from the line, part of his career-high 17 points, and Hamilton knocked down one of his threes, giving Maryland some breathing room.
“Back against the wall, you’re down some days, you’ve got to keep your head up and keep battling and keep fighting,” Scott said. “Because the outcome at the end is going to be sunny skies and smiling faces.”
Maryland will hope Scott’s right.
Sunday’s performance showed there’s room for improvement, but as Hamilton and other players continue to grow into their roles, the other side might be one of promise — if not something brighter.
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