No. 3 Maryland men’s basketball remained undefeated Wednesday night, picking up a 72-51 win over Notre Dame.
The Terps now begin the season 9-0 for the first time since 1998-199 season.
Here’s three takeaways from Maryland’s victory in the Big Ten/ ACC Challenge — its first since switching conferences.
1. Anthony Cowan Jr. doesn’t have to carry the load.
Last season, Cowan was called upon to provide for his team on the offensive end. Whenever Maryland needed a bucket, Cowan was put in a high screen-and-roll with former Terp Bruno Fernando, forcing him to create for his team.
This year is different with the Terps’ newly acquired depth and development.
By halftime, Cowan only had two points and three shots. But his teammates, including Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Jalen Smith, carried the load and pushed Maryland to a 12-point advantage with their combined 22 points in the first 20 minutes.
“It’s less stress on [Cowan],” Darryl Morsell said. “He doesn’t have to carry us as much as he had to in the past. And it just shows how deep we are ... anybody can step up any given night.”
In six of Maryland’s nine games so far this season, Mark Turgeon’s team has managed to have four or more scorers in double-digits. With a more level contribution list, Cowan will not have to force his offense like he was required to do last year — though the senior is capable of being the guy to step up when need be, like when he dropped 30 points against Temple.
Cowan finished with nine points against Notre Dame — his lowest point total of the season.
“He’s made every big play for them in close games,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “If you would have told me that he had nine tonight — I’d thought we’d be in much better shape. But everybody else kicked our butt.”
2. Eric Ayala worked as a playmaker tonight.
Ayala, who has started the previous two games, played well against Notre Dame on Wednesday. The sophomore guard not only notched a season-high 14 points but assisted on five buckets and didn’t turn the ball over once.
Around the six minute mark in the first half, the sophomore guard went on a 7-0 run by himself in a 78-second time frame. A few minutes later, Ayala had a monster transition dunk that brought Xfinity Center to life after the Terps got off to another slow start.
This play from Eric Ayala was quite a viscous slam as well. @EA_Glo has been bringing it tonight, leading No. 3 Maryland at the half with 9 points (4/5 FG), 3 assists and a steal. pic.twitter.com/lr6WavIvRn— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) December 5, 2019
“Eric is a guy that’s getting better every game,” Turgeon said. “I love the five assists, no turnovers. ...He was complete tonight and got us going making those shots.”
Ayala’s electric play was part of the Terps’ 19-point run to close out the first half.
3. The Terps managed with barely any help from their bench.
After almost five minutes of play, Morsell, who had just picked up his first foul, was replaced by Donta Scott.
The freshman missed two shots and tallied one assist before he was pulled nearly seven minutes later.
Scott was one of the four players, including Serrel Smith Jr, Hakim Hart, Ricky Lindo Jr. and Makhi Mitchel, that saw meaningful minutes off the bench against the Fighting Irish.
Those players, along with a few more, combined for 13 points off the bench, which tied the Terps’ season-low that was set on Sunday against Marquette.
With added depth, Turgeon has been able to go to other players and extend his rotation. But this philosophy may become difficult if he is unable to get any offensive production from his role players going forward.