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Performances from Eric Ayala, Fatts Russell help lift Maryland men’s basketball over Brown, 81-67

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The Terps are now winners of three straight games.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The three-point shot wasn't falling for Maryland men’s basketball against Brown, but once the first one went in with just under 16 minutes left, that’s when the run started.

Junior forward Donta Scott drilled the Terps’ first three-pointer of the day to help cure Maryland’s shooting woes. Graduate guard Fatts Russell then followed that up with a burst to the basket to give Maryland a 7-0 run over the course of a minute after it was neck-and-neck with a Brown team that came into College Park as double-digit point underdogs.

But even when the Terps found themselves up 46-45, the momentum began to pile on. Junior guard Hakim Hart snagged his second steal of the day and finished in transition at the hoop on the other end, then Russell banked in another jumper of his own. Senior guard Eric Ayala came right back soon after and finished off a play with a wide-open layup to cap off Maryland’s 13-0 run that stretched nearly four minutes of play.

The run sparked Maryland the rest of the way, and it eventually captured the 81-67 win over Brown at the Xfinity Center in College Park on Thursday night. With the victory, Maryland has won three straight games. The Terps are now 8-4 on the season and 3-1 under interim head coach Danny Manning.

“For us to close out the month on a three-game win streak will give us confidence going into Big Ten play,” Manning said. “And that’s just a testament to the willpower and desire of our guys going out there and wanting to make something happen.”

Looking to build on its two-game winning streak even further, Maryland got started right off the bat with a two-point jumper from Scott in the paint to get the scoring underway.

The Terps found some success in the paint against Lehigh and Manning has reiterated constantly that he wants his offense to get touches inside, and they continued just that in the early portion of the first half.

Junior center Qudus Wahab bodied his way towards the hoop soon after Scott’s make and added another bucket, though those two baskets were the Terps’ only two successful field goals on seven tries. Both teams started a combined 4-for-13 from the floor with the score tied at 6-6 nearly four and a half minutes into the game.

Maryland was locked in defensively coming out of the media timeout having already held Brown to just 25% shooting at that point. A big block from freshman forward Julian Reese on the defensive end led to a play by Ayala in transition. Ayala’s pump fake in the paint fooled two Bears and he sunk the layup with a foul to give Maryland the lead.

Despite Ayala’s first basket, Maryland’s cold shooting stretch continued as Brown held a low-scoring one-point lead nearing the halfway mark of the first half. Maryland shot 3-for-7 in the first half from deep against Lehigh just two days prior, but an 0-for-3 clip from beyond the arc to kick off the opening 20 minutes allowed Brown to stay in the game and even extend its advantage to 14-10.

Both teams went back and forth and neither side was able to go on a run of more than six points at a time. The scoring wasn't coming for either program and each team failed to hit a three-pointer over 12 minutes into the game on seven combined attempts.

After a chaotic sequence that included a turnover from each side with under six minutes left, Ayala drew three free throws because of contact on one of his three-point shots. He missed two of his three shots from the line as Maryland still trailed by one. The Terps had plenty of made free throws in the first half even with Ayala’s two misses from the charity stripe, hitting 15-of-19 tries over the first 20 minutes.

Brown kept coming at Maryland and threatened to take a lead into halftime with about three minutes left. A basket and the whistle allowed Bears’ graduate forward Tamenang Choh to bring its lead up even more.

A couple of plays from Russell, who was a game-time decision after what looked like a knee-to-knee injury that he suffered in the second half of the Lehigh game, shrunk the deficit towards the end of the half.

All five of Maryland’s starters were the only Terps to score in the first half. Scott led Maryland’s scorers with eight points, while Russell, Hart and Wahab each added seven points. Still, the Terps trailed at 39-35 at halftime after going 0-for-5 from deep, in what was the eighth time in 12 games that they couldn’t capture a lead in the opening half.

Scott opened the scoring with a floater that had some nice touch to it to pull Maryland back within two. And just like a mirror image of the first half, the Terps’ shooting was ice cold. Scott’s 10th point of the day was the only field goal Maryland sunk on its first five attempts.

Maryland then put its foot down with a huge 13-0 run to fully take the reins of the contest.

Brown snapped the Terps’ massive run with a two-point basket to bring the game to 52-47, but Russell swished home a three-pointer, the team’s second of the game, to balloon the lead back up to eight. Hart followed Russell’s lead with five straight points of his own just after the made three.

With around 10 minutes left, Maryland boasted a double-digit advantage. Russell, Hart and Scott combined to score 44 of the Terps’ 60 points up to that point.

All Maryland needed to do from there was avoid a late push from a Brown program that was in the midst of a two-game losing streak entering Thursday, and it did just that. Maryland captured its largest lead of the game with a 71-58 score with just under six minutes to go.

Ayala secured his team-high 20th point late in the second half to help seal the deal. Despite failing to hit a three, Ayala scored at least 19 points for the third straight game and has looked like a refreshed version of himself after struggling earlier in the year with his efficiency. He scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half. Russell, on the other hand, added 18 points.

“That’s nice for him because his speed just makes our tempo, like, a lot faster,” Hart said after the game about Russell.

Maryland finished off the game with a few more buckets to close out the 14-point win to continue the team’s winning streak.

“When you have three, four, five new players on the team, including myself it’s going to be a fill-out period, you know, everything’s not gonna go well because you don’t know each other,” Russell said. “I thought we, you know, building that bond and building that chemistry on and off the court and it’s finally starting to click.”

Three things to know

1. Fatts Russell looked like he was near full health. After the game against Lehigh, it was unknown as to whether or not Russell would be playing in the matchup with Brown. He was deemed a game-time decision on Thursday morning and eventually appeared in the starting lineup for tonight’s game. He looked swift on the floor and played 14 minutes in the first half, collecting seven points and two rebounds over that span. He finished with 18 points in 29 minutes and shot 6-for-9 from the field and zipped around the floor like usual.

“Really happy that Fatts was on the court today,” Manning said. “He felt comfortable enough to play and we’re very happy that he did because it comes out, you know, the way he played, 18 points, five assists, tremendous job of running the team, but also picking his moments to go make something happen.”

2. Fouls were in abundance. Before the halfway mark of the first half, both teams were already in the bonus after each program committed at least seven fouls. At the end of the first half alone, both teams combined for a whopping 32 free throw tries. Maryland received 19 of those attempts and hit 15, good enough for a nearly 80% clip. Brown went 9-for-13 on its first-half free throw tries. It remained a heavy free throw game the rest of the way, with the Terps finishing 22-for-27 at the line, while the Bears hit 15 of their 22 free throw attempts.

3. Maryland is officially on its longest winning streak since the beginning of the season. The Terps haven't had a winning streak that has stretched to three games since it took down the likes of Quinnipiac, George Washington and Vermont to open up the year. Maryland has gone through plenty of change this season, but after losing to Northwestern at home in Manning’s inaugural game as interim head coach, it has rattled off three consecutive victories. It has beaten then-No. 20 Florida, Lehigh and now Brown to improve to 8-4 before Big Ten play starts again against Iowa on Jan. 3.