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Terps

Three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s 76-55 win over Lehigh

The Maryland men’s basketball team overcame a 16-day layoff and a spunky Lehigh squad Tuesday night to race to a 76-55 victory.

From Eric Ayala’s spark on offense to the team’s effectiveness in the paint to Hakim Hart’s ability to create turnovers, here are three takeaways from the Terps’ win before an announced 9,783 at the Xfinity Center in College Park.

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Eric Ayala is the offensive catalyst.

The team’s back-to-back victories over then-No. 20 Florida on Dec. 12 and the Mountain Hawks have coincided with a more productive effort from the senior shooting guard.

In that 70-68 upset of the Gators, Ayala shot 54.5% (6-for-11) from the field, including 60% from 3-point range (3-for-5), and hit four of five free throws to finish with 19 points, tying graduate student point guard Fatts Russell for game-high honors. On Tuesday, Ayala shot a season-best 61.5% (8-for-13) and made three of six 3-point attempts en route to a game-best 20 points.

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Ayala downplayed his individual performance, seeking instead to shift the spotlight to Maryland improving to 7-4 and picking up its second consecutive win after three straight losses marked by Mark Turgeon’s decision to vacate his head-coaching position Dec. 3.

“Just playing with more energy,” Ayala said. “We’re trying to change the narrative on our season. Just trying to get some wins.”

After scoring just two points in the first 14 minutes against the Mountain Hawks (1-10), Ayala erupted for 18 in the final 26 minutes, mixing long-range jumpers with layups in the paint. His effectiveness was much appreciated by interim coach Danny Manning.

“He’s responding very well,” he said of Ayala. “The Florida game, he scored the ball really well for us. This game, he got going and scored the ball really well for us. That’s what we need to continue to have from him, his aggressiveness. Now you’re going to make shots, and you’re going to miss shots. That’s all part of it, the ebb and flow of a ball game. But what I like is the aggressiveness, and I like the percentage that he’s shooting the ball at. He’s very efficient with his shot attempts and his makes. So we have to continue to go down that path.”

The Terps played bully ball.

After laboring through the first half, the team began to use its size differential in the paint to its advantage.

Six-foot-8, 230-pound junior power forward Donta Scott racked up 17 points, 6-9, 230-pound freshman power forward Julian Reese scored 12, 6-11, 240-pound junior center Qudus Wahab had 11 and 6-8, 205-pound junior shooting guard Hakim Hart finished with 10. Maryland outscored Lehigh in the paint, 36-20.

Going inside contributed to the Mountain Hawks committing their seventh foul just 5:53 into the second half and putting the Terps in the bonus. Maryland capitalized by converting 15 of 17 free-throw attempts in the remaining 14:07.

Scott attributed the inside production to moving the ball quickly between the post and perimeter and around the edges.

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“I feel like it’s better if we just get ball movement so that we can get ourselves moving. So basically, we can get into a better flow of the game and stuff like that.”

Scott also shared game-high honors in rebounds with Wahab with eight each, Reese added six and Hart collected five as the Terps owned a 47-27 advantage on the boards.

Considering that Maryland outscored Florida, 28-18, in the paint despite getting outrebounded 35-30, Manning said the team must continue to flex its muscles close to the basket.

“I thought our big guys did a terrific job of establishing post position, and then I thought our perimeter players did a great job of getting them the basketball,” he said. “So it was definitely something that goes hand-in-hand. I’ll continue to say it, and we share it with our guys all of the time: we want to be a power team, and a power team plays through the paint. A power team gets paint touches by the pass or by the dribble. When we do that, we put teams in a tough situation in terms of drawing fouls on them early and getting into the bonus.

“We executed that fairly well today, and we have to continue to work at it and get better. But that’s got to be a formula for us to score the basketball, is getting paint touches.”

Hakim Hart’s versatility is a prized possession.

In addition to compiling 10 points and five rebounds, Hart also had five steals, eclipsing his previous career high of four set in an 86-80 victory over Richmond on Nov. 25 at the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championships.

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Hart, who finished last season with 24 steals, leads the Terps with 22. The next closest is Russell with 10. Hart’s prowess at getting his hands on the ball is well known among his teammates.

“He’s always like that, especially at practice,” Scott said. “He’s always in the passing lane, getting those steals and stuff like that. But just knowing that Keem’s ability transfers into the game as well, it’s pretty nice to see him come along. Growing up with Keem, seeing him develop and stuff like that, especially on the defensive side, has been pretty cool.”

Hart’s steals led to seven points for the Terps on the other end of the floor. Manning said Hart does several things correctly that don’t otherwise show up in the box score.

“He’s in the right place defensively,” Manning said. “So therefore he’s getting hands on the basketball with deflections and getting steals. Offensively, he does a tremendous job of being a versatile player for us. He can play the [point guard position], the [shooting guard role], the [small forward spot]. I thought today, he did a good job of having a smaller player on him and going into a backdown game in the post. But his overall game is something we depend on throughout the course of the ballgame because he can be a facilitator and then we can move Fatts around and he can go score it. We can move Eric around and he can go score it.

“So Hakim, he is the ultimate glue guy in that starting lineup, and he is playing at a high clip right now.”

BROWN@MARYLAND

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