When the halftime horn sounded at Xfinity Center on Tuesday night, Maryland men’s basketball left the floor desperate for something that could give it an offensive spark.
Things weren’t looking good for head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad to that point, with the team connecting on just one of its first twelve three-point attempts to find itself trailing No. 24 Purdue by three at the break. Turgeon made it a point of emphasis to get his most dynamic scorer, Aaron Wiggins, involved early and often in the second frame.
“There was no way that we’d go 1-for-12 in the second half again,” Wiggins said. “Things got to even out and I mean, once we got going, it just wasn’t stopping. There was nothing that you could do to stop us.”
The junior guard led the way for the Terps with 18 points in the 61-60 victory over No. 24 Purdue, doing so on 7-of-16 shooting and a 3-for-8 clip from beyond the arc in Tuesday’s win. He also had a team-high 11 rebounds, marking his second double-double of the season.
Wiggins has been on a tear as of late after dealing with a lingering shoulder issue earlier in the season, averaging 15.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists over his last eight games.
But even he struggled to find his rhythm early in Tuesday’s game, totaling just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, including missing all four of his attempts from deep, in his 18 minutes on the floor.
Yet, despite his earlier trouble, Wiggins returned to the floor in the second half in attack mode, with Turgeon putting him in perfect position to do so.
On the team’s first offensive possession of the half, he curled around a Jairus Hamilton screen on the wing and drove hard to the free-throw line before pulling up and sinking a mid-range jumper. Two minutes later, he came off a pair of screens from Donta Scott and Galin Smith on an inbounds play and drilled another jumper from the short corner as he began to heat up from the floor.
“Coach ran a couple of really good plays for me to get good looks and we executed them really well,” Wiggins said. “When we execute plays, and I’m getting good looks, I’m confident I’m gonna make the shot.”
Seeing those two jumpers fall helped Wiggins shoot the ball far with far more confidence from there on out, providing the Terps with the momentum they needed to keep pace with Purdue.
“Aaron is literally, like, the true definition of a microwave to me ... I promise you every single time [Wiggins] makes a shot, I go to the entire team, ‘find him,’ because that next one is going up and it’s going in,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “He know how big of a game this is, he dream of being in moments like this. So he just embraced it.”
Wiggins’ teammates continued to feed him as the period progressed, with those shots he buried from inside the arc giving him the confidence to extend his range.
With 12 minutes remaining, Wiggins came around another Smith screen, this time catching it at the top of the key. He quickly set his feet and nailed the straight on three, tying the game at 36. He went on to knock down his next two triples after that, shooting 5-of-6 from the floor and 3-3 from deep to score 13 of Maryland’s first 18 points of the half.
“They’re a different team when Aaron Wiggins is aggressive and is hunting and making his shot,” Scott Van Pelt said on SportsCenter following the game.
The junior’s shooting began to inspire confidence in his teammates as well, with Eric Ayala and Scott getting in on the act themselves soon after. Led by Wiggins, the Terps shot 8-for-13 (61%) from three-point range in the second half, helping invigorate the team’s scoring attack to put away No. 24 Purdue.
Maryland has primarily operated out of the halfcourt this season, ranking 13th in the Big Ten and 305th in the country in adjusted tempo, per Kenpom. The team has often been prone to prolonged scoring droughts in each game, struggling to execute its sets consistently for minutes at a time.
A player like Wiggins that can hunt for his shot helps alleviate some of those cold stretches, being one of the team’s few players that create his own offense and score from all three levels. And despite enduring stretches in which he’s gone up to 0-for-5 on three-point attempts, he continues to trust his shot and impact each game offensively in a way that elevates the play of his teammates.
“When you work you see results,” Wiggins said. “I try to get as much work in as I can on my off days on you know after games things of that nature, and all of our guys do.”