There are only 25 days until the start of the 2019-20 season for Maryland men’s basketball. As the Terps get ready for a highly anticipated year where they’re ranked in the top-10 of every major preseason poll, we’ll be breaking down head coach Mark Turgeon’s roster, which promises to be the deepest he’s had in his time in College Park.
Sophomore guard Eric Ayala emerged as one of the better shooters on the team, draining nearly 41 percent of his shots from behind the arc last year. He’s also one of the more durable players, as he averaged the third most minutes per contest last season. Here’s a look at what to expect from Ayala in year two.
Eric Ayala, Guard, No. 5
Hometown: Wilmington, Del.
High school: IMG Academy
2018-19 stats: 8.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg
Ayala proved to be a much better shooter than originally thought for the Terps last season, draining the third most three pointers on the team. He also showed his ability to control the offense as he alternated bringing the ball up with Anthony Cowan Jr.
Ayala started all but one game last season, with only Cowan starting more games than him. He also averaged 29 minutes per game, which was the third most on the team, behind Cowan and Bruno Fernando.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of his game.
As stated already, the first strength for Ayala is obviously his ability to shoot the ball from three point range. He shot 40.6 percent on three-pointers last season, with 16 games with multiple three-pointers made, with a game-high of five against Marshall.
Aside from his shooting skills, Ayala possesses phenomenal dribbling skills. While he may not always protect the ball, he does create shots and can drive to the rim strictly because he can dribble past defenders.
Eric Ayala fakes the pass then takes it to the rack himself pic.twitter.com/RlrRf5zRSB— Lamar Johnson (@im_lamar) November 17, 2018
Many of the then-freshman’s three-pointers came off of the dribble, in which he created space for himself. His first career NCAA three-point field goal came off of a step-back that he created.
Eric Ayala nails his first triple of the season on a step-back pic.twitter.com/GH4X97HVB6— Lamar Johnson (@im_lamar) November 17, 2018
He also was able to shoot the long ball off of a catch. Defenders had a hard time adjusting to whether he was going to catch and shoot or make a dribble move to the rim.
*extreme Mike Breen voice*— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) January 30, 2019
Ayala from deep ... BAAAANG. The lead is 22. Timeout Northwestern pic.twitter.com/1qvlHeYBCz
One of his biggest plays of last season combined both his dribbling and his three point shooting. On Feb. 12 the Terps hosted then-No. 12 Purdue. Mid-way through the second half the Terps trailed but Ayala sparked the huge second half comeback and pushed the Terps to a 70-56 victory.
The Xfinity Center was electric after Ayala made a dribble move that made former Purdue guard Carsen Edwards lose his balance. Ayala dished the ball to Cowan, who gave it right back to Ayala and he drained a three.
See how Ayala combined both of his strengths to complete one of his most memorable plays of last season.
Eric Ayala made Carsen Edwards hit the deck pic.twitter.com/iC1ORKKaDY— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) February 13, 2019
Ayala’s ability to shoot from long range and create his own opportunities to drive to the basket could allow him to become an even better scorer in 2019-20. Opposing defenses will have a hard time figuring out how to guard him if he is a two-way scorer.
Ayala has stellar ball handling skills but he needs to do a better job of holding on to it. He turned the ball over 55 times in 34 games last season, averaging 1.6 turnovers per game. If he wants to take the next step during his sophomore year, it will start with limiting turnovers.
Prior to his ankle breaking dribble move on Edwards, the Boilermaker got the best of Ayala. Edwards blatantly stole the ball away from Ayala, who seemed to be carless with the ball.
Since I keep seeing all these Carsen Edwards highlights on the TL, I figured I throw out the time he snatched Eric Ayala’s soul single-handedly. #Sixers pic.twitter.com/F8eF9BFX2H— Henry Malone (@henrymalone_) June 5, 2019
He had the third most turnovers on the team last year behind Fernando and Cowan. As a guard who primarily plays the point, his job is to take care of the basketball and he can take the next step in his game if he limits the turnovers.
Another part of Ayala’s game that can improve is his free throw shooting. The guard shot 77 percent from the charity stripe last season, a percentage of which he looks to improve greatly in the 2019-20 season.
If Ayala can limit his turnovers and sink more clutch free throws this season, he will nearly complete his skill set.
Outlook for the 2019-2020 season
Head coach Mark Turgeon was asked which sophomores made the biggest jump from their freshmen year at Big Ten Media Day on Oct. 2. Turgeon had a lot to say about the improvement of Ayala’s game.
“Eric Ayala totally changed his body from when he came in,” Turgeon said, also adding that he lost some weight and got more in shape. “I’m not sure Eric could dunk when we got him, now he’s reverse-dunking, double-pumping on dunks.”
As stated, if Ayala can translate his newly acquired dunking abilities into gameplay and mix that with his ball handling skills and three-point shot, he will be a lethal option for Maryland in 2019-20. He has the ability to get to the rim off his dribble and now Turgeon believes he can finish it too.
Turgeon had much more to say about the sophomore guard, especially about his shooting.
“[Ayala’s] shot’s even gotten better,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t think [Ayala] was a very good shooter when we signed him, now he’s one of the better shooters I’ve ever coached.”
Turgeon has coached sharp shooters like Kevin Huerter, Jake Layman, and Melo Trimble just at Maryland alone. If Ayala shoots close to or better than he did last year, he is going to be a huge asset to Maryland’s offense.
Although he started as a freshman, expect Ayala to be the first man off the bench behind Cowan Jr. and Wiggins. He could be the spark off the bench for Maryland this year and could even start in a few contests if he performs well enough.