No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball competed its regular season Sunday with a 83-70 win over No. 25 Michigan.
With the victory, the Terps finish with a 24-7 overall record and a share of the Big Ten regular season title — their first conference title and first title since the 2009-10 season.
Here’s what we took away from the victory.
1. Four Terps scored in double digits
For the majority of the year, Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith have carried the offensive burden for the Terps — with occasional contributions coming from other Terps.
But for the first time since Feb. 7 at Illinois and the fourth time this season, four Maryland players — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Smith and Cowan — finished in double digits. The quartet combined for 72 points Sunday — the most they’ve produced in a single game.
“I know Eric and Aaron always gonna step up for the big games,” Smith said. “Most of our whole starting lineup was in double-digits. It’s just a good feeling knowing that ...everybody’s stepping up when it really matters.”
Cowan — as expected on his senior day — scored a game-high 20 points to go along with eight assists and four rebounds. He was efficient in doing so as well, going 7-of-11 from the field while making all six of his free-throw attempts.
In his senior day showing, Anthony Cowan Jr. is shooting an impressive 7-for-9 from the floor, along with five assists. pic.twitter.com/6vvE78ZNAu— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) March 8, 2020
Wiggins contributed 15 points, going a stellar 6-of-8 on field goals that included a lights-out 3-of-4 from deep. Smith notched another double-double — his 21st of the season — and Ayala produced a season-high 19 points. (More on him a bit later)
After 30 games, the quartet seemed to finally have found its footing and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In the five games that Cowan, Smith, Wiggins and Ayala have each scored 10 points or more, Maryland is 4-1 with its lone loss coming at the hands of Penn State, which is a good sign for the team heading into postseason play.
2. Eric Ayala hit big shot after big shot
As previously mentioned, all four of the Terps produced — but no Maryland player had a better season finale then Ayala.
The sophomore guard has had an up-and-down regular season, and prior to his performance against Michigan, had not put together any standout performances since his then-season-high 16 points on Feb. 23 against Ohio State.
In the past three games, the Wilmington, Delaware, native scored a combined 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the field and 3-of-13 shooting from deep.
But against the Wolverines in the final game of the season with a Big Ten title on the line, Ayala had his best performance of the season.
With the Terps’ lead depleted to six with just over eight minutes remaining, Ayala dribbled at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. Ayala appeared to be driving to the hoop to make something happen — but instead — stepped back, causing Wolverine defender Eli Brooks to slip. With plenty of space, the sophomore launched and made his second three-pointer of the night.
Just over a minute later, Ayala knocked in his third three-pointer of the night, extending Maryland’s lead to double double digits. He followed that make with hard defense, clapping in front of Zavier Simpson as he possessed the ball at the top of the key.
Eric Ayala for threeeeeeee— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) March 8, 2020
Now with 15 points, @EA_Glo is the fourth Terp in double figures today. The sophomore is shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep. pic.twitter.com/UtLHwwRsqe
The sophomore guard finished with a 19 points — a season high and one short of tying his career high — on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from deep to go along with seven rebounds.
The trio of plays indicated that Ayala’s confidence was back — and other have noticed too. Head coach Mark Turgeon said the sophomore guard was turning heads this past Friday at practice, throwing behind-the-back passes and making almost every shot he took.
“It was like ‘Woah.’ And I looked over at coach [Matt] Brady, and I’m like ‘Where’s this cat been,’” Turgeon said. “That’s the Eric of last year — when we played well at home, he’s made some big shots.”
3. The Terps’ track meet returned
Early in the season, Maryland talked a lot about its ability to get into the open floor and show off its athletic play — such as when Darryl Morsell told the team during halftime of the Oakland game Nov. 16 to turn the game into a “track meet.”
The Terps stuck that that game plan early in the year, but moved away from it as the season wore on.
But on Sunday, Maryland got back to its old game plan, getting out in transition for 20 fast break points — its most since Harvard Nov. 29 (20) and second-most this season behind only Oakland (30) — and capitalizing on the Wolverines’ turnovers.
With just under six minutes remaining in the first half and the Terps maintaining a 25-15 lead, Smith stood his ground in the post again Michigan’s Austin Davis. After Davis picked up his dribble along the baseline, Smith stole the ball from him and led the fast break as Wiggins ran ahead of him and Donta Scott and Morsell filled the wings.
The sophomore threw a precise bounce pass in between two Wolverines, causing them to bump into one another, to Wiggins, who took one dribble and threw down a two-handed slam to electrify the Xfinity Crowd. His dunk capped off a 7-0 Maryland run that gave the team it’s first double-digit lead.
The Terps forced Michigan into nine turnovers, scoring a total of 11 points off of them, including Wiggins’ dunk.
“Transition, we get out, we get a dunk — make a lot of plays,” Ayala said. “It’s just a chance for us to have fun ... especially with our talent on the court. Whoever [gets] it — we can all play off each other. It’s just fun playing like that.”