Maryland men’s basketball hadn’t added a tally to the win column since Dec. 4 after dropping its last two games to Clemson and No. 19 Rutgers.
On Tuesday, though, the Terps found their rhythm against La Salle and used a 46-point second half to push them to a 84-71 victory in College Park.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the team’s last nonconference game of the season.
Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala played as advertised
Two of Maryland’s top-three returning scorers hadn’t been playing up their potential in recent games. Wiggins and Ayala, who both scored in double figures in each of the team’s first three contests, had failed to to do so together since Nov. 29.
Both juniors recorded season-highs on Tuesday as Ayala reached 23 points and Wiggins added 15 of his own in the win.
“Those two guys stepped up and played well, it’s good to see,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “They got to play that way for us to be good.”
Ayala leads the team with 14.6 points per game through seven games, though he had been struggling from deep as of late.
Shooting just 2-for-8 from three against the Explorers, Ayala turned to his inside game instead to score, earning multiple trips to the free-throw line for 13 points.
“Today, I got to the line and guys were fouling,” Ayala said. “And so, it was easy for me to get to the line to make free throws, but, whatever we gotta do to win, I always preach that.”
Wiggins tallied a team-high 9 rebounds in the game with two assists and a steal, while Ayala had five boards and three assists as well.
Four of the Terps’ five wins this season have come when both Ayala and Wiggins have finished in double figures. If this dynamic junior duo can stay hot going into a tough conference stretch, Maryland would greatly benefit.
Maryland continued to struggle from deep
For the fifth straight game, the Terps shot worse than 40% from deep, sinking just seven of its 28 shots.
Maryland hit 47.3% of its three-point attempts through the first two games combined, but hasn’t been productive since.
In their last game against Rutgers, the Terps went 4-for-20, with Ayala, Wiggins and Darryl Morsell shooting a combined 0-for-10 from the mark in the loss.
Little was different against La Salle, as the team hit just 25% of its deep balls on a season-high 28 attempts. Ayala hit two in the game, the first in four games for the junior after an 0-for-9 skid in his last three contests.
For a team that has a quick trigger shooting the ball, the Terps will need to find a rhythm from deep if they want to earn quick points down the stretch.
“We didn’t shoot the ball too well,” Wiggins said. “If we make shots, we win that game about 25, 30. So, it’s still something that we got to work on, continuing to stay confident and shoot our shots with confidence.”
The Terps got help from their bench scoring the ball
Maryland got 23 points of support from its bench Tuesday, the highest total since a 27-point performance against St. Peter’s on Nov. 29.
Sophomore Hakim Hart and junior Jairus Hamilton both finished in double-figures, which marks the first time this season two players have surpassed the mark coming off the bench. The two were the team’s only bench players to get on the score sheet in the contest.
Hart’s 13 points were his most since his outlandish performance against St. Peter’s where the Philadelphia native dropped a career-high 32 points. The sophomore’s night was topped off with an emphatic dunk on an alley-oop pass from Wiggins.
“It gave us a lot of energy,” Wiggins said about the play. “That was really good for us, it gave us a lot of energy both on the bench and in the game.”
Hamilton, who was one of two Terps with multiple triples in Tuesday’s win, ended with 10 points of his own in 21 minutes of action. The transfer from Boston College has scored in double figures three times this season, each time with at least two deep balls made, which has been a unique skill for the 6-foot-8, 235 pounder.
Also off the bench, sophomore Chol Marial played well in his six minutes of action. Though he didn’t register a shot, the 7-foot-2 presence recorded two blocks and as many rebounds in the win.