Maryland men’s basketball had gone cold on offense, held without a score for nearly four and a half minutes. The team was in desperate need of an offensive burst as its advantage over La Salle started to slip away with under three minutes left in the first half.
Locked in on defense to keep the Explorers at bay, Aaron Wiggins intercepted a pass at the top of the key and stormed down the floor for a slam dunk.
The Terps continued to hound their opponent on the next possession to force a miss, which once again led to a score on the other end. After grabbing the rebound, sophomore forward Donta Scott passed the ball off to Wiggins behind the arc. The junior guard hesitated, took a step and let it fly, draining the triple.
Maryland overcame a hot and cold first half to go on a 10-0 run going into the break, building a lead that was too much for La Salle to come back from in a 84-71 victory Tuesday night.
“There was some times where we couldn’t score and they were hitting shots and we lost a little bit of momentum, but our energy was terrific,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our guys had fun tonight. They had fun. In the locker room after the game, they were real excited about...some of the things they did tonight. So we took a step in the right direction.”
The team had come up short in its last two outings entering the contest, suffering losses at the hands of Clemson and then-No. 19 Rutgers.
The Terps struggled on both sides of the ball through the two defeats, but they were especially hindered by a lack of efficiency on offense. Across both contests, they went 41-for-111 (36.9%) from the field and 10-for-38 (26.3%) on three-point attempts.
The team had an eight-day break from gameplay following the 74-60 loss to the Scarlet Knights and hadn’t posted a win since Dec. 4 against Saint Peter’s. And with a difficult Big Ten slate looming, the Terps desperately need to get their rhythm back in their last outing against a nonconference opponent.
Maryland missed its first shot of the game, but instead of falling into offensive woes early as it had in each of its last two contests, the team settled in against La Salle’s zone defense.
The Terps made four of their next five attempts from the floor and turned up the energy on the defensive end, forcing La Salle to miss all but one of its next eight shots from there. Maryland was up 17-9 by the under-12 timeout, with the Explorers shooting just 3-of-12 from the field.
“Our guarding the ball was better. When we were locked in, our transition defense was really good...communication was good,” Turgeon said. “We’ve gotten better since the Clemson game, there’s no doubt about it.”
However, the group still struggled to knock down three-pointers as it went 2-for-8 from behind the arc in the first half of the opening period. The Terps went 7-for-28 (25%) on three-point attempts on the evening.
Soon, the momentum was turned on its head altogether. Up 20-9 with under 12 minutes left in the half, Maryland allowed La Salle to go on a 9-2 run in less than two minutes, making it a four point game.
After building its lead back up to nine with a little over seven minutes left until the break, Maryland lost its touch, missing six consecutive field goals in its longest drought of the half before Wiggins gave the team some life. Following the run, which included four forced turnovers, the Terps entered halftime with a comfortable 40-25 lead.
“A lot guys, we started talking, we just needed to pick up our defense,” Scott said. “So then we picked up our defense, and then once we did that, it was not too hard for our offense to get started.”
Eric Ayala knocked down a triple to start the second half, but Maryland couldn’t get the offense back going from there as it made just three of its first 10 shots in the period. Meanwhile, La Salle found its groove to come knocking on the Terps’ door and bring the contest within 10 points multiple times.
With around five minutes left and Maryland’s advantage once again in jeopardy of reaching single digits, Hakim Hart brought the team back to life.
After making one of his two attempts from the charity stripe and a Terps’ defensive stop, Eric Ayala threw a lob to Hakim Hart, who slammed down an emphatic dunk to bring the advantage back up to 13. The sophomore was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, but the play gave the team the offensive steam it needed to carry out the victory.
“He gave us a lot of energy,” Wiggins said. “La Salle, they made a lot of shots. They were playing well, especially in the second half, so you got to give them credit. But that [dunk] was really good for us; it gave us a lot of energy, both on the bench and in the game.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland struggled to knock down shots from the charity stripe in the first half. After shooting 45.5% at the free-throw line two games ago, the Terps once again couldn’t make the most of their chances at the stripe. They went 1-of-5 from the line to start the game and ended the first half with just four made shots on 10 chances. Maryland improved in the second, but still ended the game with a 71% mark from the stripe.
2. Chol Marial made the most of his minutes. The 7-foot-2 center didn’t see much time in this one, just six minutes, but he looked better than he has in recent games when did get on the court. He didn’t attempt a shot, but he had two blocks and two rebounds. He’s often struggled to control the ball, but Marial didn’t turn it over once Tuesday.
3. The Terps took care of the ball. Maryland has been bogged down by turnovers in recent years, but that wasn’t the case Tuesday night. After giving the ball away 24 times across their two losses, the Terps only committed four turnovers in the victory over La Salle — the fewest of any game in for Maryland since Feb. 4, 1993 against Virginia.