COLLEGE PARK — Justin Jackson had played 71 minutes of Division I basketball. He had started one game. To deem him ready for the NBA draft? After just three Maryland men’s basketball games? That seemed, well, premature, like predicting an aced final exam a week into the start of a 400-level class.
But after the Terps’ fourth game, a tense 71-66 win Sunday over Towson at Xfinity Center, Tigers coach Pat Skerry joked about the Canadian freshman forward’s future, and how he wished his team hadn’t Barclays Classic Tonight, 7 TV: Big Ten Network Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Maryland by 171⁄ been a part of it.
“I was hoping he was going to declare for the draft before the game,” Skerry said after Jackson had 21 points and five 3-pointers on just 13 total shots in 36 minutes, along with four rebounds and two blocks. “That would’ve helped us. He’s really good. It was just a matter of time.”
He has been really good twice now, and in the Terps’ two most important games. His fifth game comes tonight against Stony Brook at Xfinity Center. The Seawolves, defending America East Conference champions, are 0-2 under first-year coach Jeff Boals.
Against Georgetown last Tuesday, Jackson shot 7-for-12, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds in a come-frombehind win.
On Sunday, in his second start, the 6-foot-7 Jackson was the best player on the
court, and also one of the youngest. Just 19 years old, he hadn’t yet been born when Maryland and Towson last played, in 1996.
At least he has a seasoned running mate. Jackson and Melo Trimble combined for 48 of the Terps’ 71 points, and the junior point guard found Jackson for all three of his second-half 3-pointers.
That they should be joined at the hip in the box score is becoming less and less of a surprise. Trimble’s most impressive performance this season: against the Hoyas. The Terps’ most important two-day stretch this offseason: when Trimble announced he was returning for his third season and Jackson, not long afterward, committed to coach Mark Turgeon.
“Justin Jackson was terrific. Melo was great,” Turgeon said after Maryland moved to 4-0. “Right now, we can’t make a jump shot, except for Justin.”
That is not by accident. Jackson, by far the team’s leading outside shooter (9-for-15), with more 3-pointers than Kevin Huerter, Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley have combined (eight), stayed after practice Saturday to shoot. For 21⁄ hours.
Assistant coach Bino Ranson has told him he has “so much potential,” Jackson said. Getting shots up, then, would help unlock it. “It’s something I always do,” he said.
Jackson was asked afterward whether there was a moment Sunday when he really got going. He said no, that he doesn’t get too high or low after a miss or a make. Of course, nothing in his first minute indicated that he would trail only Trimble in terms of playing time by game’s end.
The Terps’ first possession ended with him on his backside, Towson forward Arnaud William Adala Moto having blocked his layup emphatically at the rim. The next time down, he was wide open on the wing. Guard Anthony Cowan Jr. found him beyond the arc. Jackson set his feet, rose and missed so badly, the ball kissed off the bottom of the backboard on the other side of the rim.
But by the end of the half, he had 10 points. He missed another 3-pointer after the intermission, but his next two were true, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 50-48 and 54-41, respectively, midway through the second half.
Jackson’s bucket two minutes later wasn’t flashy. It was telling. With the Terps down two, he parked himself in the left corner while Cowan ran a pick-and-roll with forward L.G. Gill Justin Jackson shoots over Towson’s Deshaun Morman in Sunday’s win. The freshman had 21 points and five 3-pointers on just 13 total shots in 36 minutes. near the top of the key.
Towson packed the middle of the lane, and Jackson raised both hands. He got Cowan’s attention, then the ball. As Tigers forward John Davis closed out hard, Jackson went around him and pulled up for an easy mid-range jumper. Maryland never trailed again.
“They run good actions and spread the floor,” Skerry said of the Terps. “They pass it. And then he just becomes a weapon because you’re trying to handle ball screens with two guys, and then you find him. He knocked down quite a few timely long balls when we had them on the ropes. He’s a special player.”
Just as important for the Terps, he’s not on anyone’s 2017 mock drafts. Not yet, anyway.
“Justin Jackson was terrific. Melo [Trimble] was great. Right now, we can’t make a jump shot, except for Justin.” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon