With just under six minutes remaining, junior forward Jairus Hamilton pulled down a rebound on the defensive end a got it to junior guard Eric Ayala, who slowed the tempo.
As Ayala crossed midcourt, junior guard Aaron Wiggins was setting up at the elbow for a screen play, but instead made a quick cut for the basket. Ayala dished it down low, where Wiggins easily finished the layup to put the Terps up by 20 points.
Ayala and Wiggins combined for 46 points to lead Maryland men’s basketball past Nebraska, 79-71, in game two of the teams’ back-to-back in College Park.
“Those two are elite offensive threats. They can score from everywhere on the floor,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “...I know how important them scoring the ball and just them being in tune to the game is to our team. So it’s great to see them have success, they put in a lot of work.”
Ayala finished with a career-high 24 points, eight rebounds and one assist, while Wiggins tallied 22 points, tied for his career-high, along with five boards and three assists. They shot a combined 51.5% from the floor and 44.4% from beyond the arc.
The victory gives the Terps’ their third win in four days, a huge boost as the team continues to push for an NCAA Tournament bid. Over that span, Ayala averaged 16.7 points per contest while Wiggins impressed with 20.0 per game.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence,” Wiggins said. “These wins, I feel like we needed them. We felt like we really needed them and we were pressed to get them. So guys were locked-in and we were ready to go.”
Nebraska came out with energy from the start, tallying a three-point play from 6-foot-9 guard Dalano Banton. The Terps answered with swift play of their own, as senior guard Darryl Morsell came away with a steal and score just 1:48 into the contest to match the energy.
Head coach Mark Turgeon yelled out in frustration after Nebraska forward Lat Mayen sank a three-point attempt to give the Cornhuskers a 10-9 lead ahead of the first media break, urging his guys to step-out on defense and guard the perimeter.
Both teams continued to light it up from beyond the arc, as Ayala and Wiggins hit threes on back-to-back possessions. The Terps finished the first half shooting 8-for-18 from long range, while Nebraska put up a 6-for-14 effort.
After a layup miss from Nebraska’s Trey McGowens with 5:08 left in the first half, Maryland pushed the ball up the floor with purpose, finding Wiggins on the fast break for a wide-open three to give the Terps a 30-25 advantage.
Maryland closed out the first half with a 40-33 lead, thanks to 15-for-31 shooting from the floor. Nebraska was able to hang around with a 37.9% effort from the floor, but Ayala and Wiggins had 17 and 13 first half points, respectively, to keep the Terps in front. Ayala’s 17 points were the most by any Terp in a first half against a Division I team this season. The rest of the Maryland team combined for a mere 10 points.
With 16:40 remaining in the contest, Wiggins pulled down a board off of his own miss and kicked it back out to Hakim Hart. Seconds later, the ball was back in Wiggins’ hands at the top of the key, where he splashed his fourth three of the evening.
After Nebraska worked to shorten the Terrapin lead with Wiggins on the bench, Jairus Hamilton and Darryl Morsell came through with a three and fastbreak layup on back-to-back possessions to force a timeout by Fred Hoiberg with 8:16 remaining.
Hamilton tied his career-high with 15 points in Tuesday night’s matchup, and though he only had three points in the first half, he came alive in the second to score 13 points. He ended the night with 13 points, two rebounds and one assist.
“He’s a spark coming off the bench,” Wiggins said. “His ability to make shots, to hit threes, you know, he stretches out the defense because [with] our small ball lineup, they have to play their four or their five man to guard him. So it kind of opens up lanes, when he gets in he’s able to kind of space the floor and give us a little bit more to work with.”
A Cornhusker foul with less than seven minutes to go brought Wiggins back onto the floor, where he and Ayala were able to draw in defenders, leading to a wide-open three from Donta Scott with 6:44 remaining.
After Maryland grew the lead back out to 20 points with under six minutes remaining thanks to the junior duo, the Cornhuskers came back with one more rush, bringing the game within 10 points with one minute left. But once again, Ayala came to the rescue, sinking two free throws to push the Terps in front by 12, allowing Turgeon to sub out his starters as they coasted to victory.
“[Ayala] made a lot of tough shots, he made threes,” Turgeon said. “He’s really a good scorer. He got some step backs and turnaround jumpers going. He was really feeling it...We’re just getting better as a team. And the better we get as a team, it opens up more opportunities for him and [Wiggins] to do what they can do.”
Three things to know
1. Both teams took care of the ball. Maryland and Nebraska combined for 15 turnovers Wednesday night, with the two teams committing four and 11, respectively — the fewest total for the Terps and an opponent in a matchup this season. This is a stark difference from Tuesday night’s matchup, in which they combined 28, including a season-high 17 for the Terps.
“One thing we did talk about was more pass fakes and shots fakes today because they’re so long, they play everything high,” Turgeon said. “So I think we did a better job of pass faking and shot faking and reading the situation and not getting in a hurry, and I think that was part of it.”
2. Donta Scott put in work despite being a non-factor in scoring. The sophomore finished the first half with without a single point and only had six on the night , but contributed across the board in other ways. Scott thrived as a facilitator in Wednesday’s contest, totaling a career-high eight assists and eight rebounds. And per usual, he was a lockdown presence on the defensive end.
3. Darryl Morsell reached a big milestone. Morsell has proven his loyalty to the program in playing out all four of his years in College Park, and was rewarded for his efforts on Wednesday night. Despite having just six points on the evening, Morsell eclipsed 1,000 point mark, becoming the 56th player in program history to reach the feat.
“I was extremely happy for him,” Wiggins said. “I looked up at the board, and I saw that they had on the board an edit of him, ‘1000 career points and 100 career starts,’ And the first thing I said to him was ‘Congrats.’ I was really happy for him and all he was thinking about was, ‘Can we get this win?’ So I told him, I was like, ‘Yeah, we gonna get the win, but congratulations,’ because that’s a huge milestone, that’s big.”