By Jack Rothenberg
Led by a 10-0 run to end the first half and five double-digit scorers, the Terps took care of business against La Salle, defeating the Explorers 84-71. Those five scorers were junior guard Eric Ayala (career-high 23 points), junior guard Aaron Wiggins (season-high 15 points), sophomore forward Donta Scott (11 points), junior forward Jarius Hamilton (10 points), and sophomore guard Hakim Hart (13 points). With a big size advantage, Maryland was able to control the glass on their own end with 13 offensive rebounds and had 44 points in the paint.
Head coach Mark Turgeon talked about the inside scoring advantage the Terps were able to create throughout the night. “We’re big on paint touches…I imagine we were in the 50’s tonight. It’s a big part of what we do. We didn’t always make great decisions, but we got to the rim a lot.”
The Terps came out of the gate hot shooting well, sharing the ball, and building a 20-9 lead midway through the first half, with seven different players in the scoring column. However, similar to most of the season, they were “Hot N Cold” like Katy Perry with the cold coming from a five minutes stretch without scoring which allowed the Explorers to narrow the lead to 30-25 before they again turned up the heat. Hart melted the ice with a free throw, but it was Wiggins who ignited the end of the half run. A lazy La Salle pass led to an easy breakaway dunk for Wiggins, and on the ensuing Maryland possession he knocked down a three to extend their lead to nine. The Terps took a 40-25 lead going into the break.
Even though Maryland didn’t shoot well from the free throw line for most of the first half, they shot a blistering 93 percent in the second and ended the night going 71% as a team. Ayala got to the line 15 times and knocked down 13 which was a big factor in the victory. In addition, the Terps only had four turnovers – the fewest the team has committed in the Turgeon era.
Maryland continued scoring efficiently and had a chance to put the game on ice early but failed to get enough stops on the defensive end and La Salle kept the game within striking distance. Just before the under 12 timeout, the Explorers cut the lead to seven but that’s as close as they would get. From this point, the Terps always answered La Salle’s hot shooting, and it was a group effort from a squad that still seems in search of its go to player. The second half highlights included a half court lob from Ayala to Hart and a put back poster slam by Scott.
Asked postgame about the Ayala-Hart alley-oop, Wiggins said, “It was great, even though they called a [technical foul] on it. I’m always telling Hakim he’s got to dunk the ball a little harder.”
Now Maryland will start the gauntlet part of their schedule, otherwise known as the entire Big Ten. No game will be a cakewalk and for the Terps it starts on Christmas Day against the Purdue Boilermakers. It will be interesting to see how they will play in their first real contest against a team with a solid center position. One thing to look for is how much playing time sophomore center Chol Mariol gets and if he’s able to make any impact at all.
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