Aaron Wiggins fired up the 3-point attempt from the wing and quickly raced forward, knowing his shot was going to end Maryland’s streak of consecutive makes. He sought to start another.
As Wiggins approached the basket, the ball ricocheted off the rim, then the backboard, then into the air, where Wiggins corralled it and slammed it down, a putback dunk to punctuate an end-of-half run that set up the Terps’ first victory in the annual challenge with their former conference, beating Notre Dame, 72-51, at the Xfinity Center on Wednesday.
“I turned back around and I just seen him on the rim," fellow sophomore guard Eric Ayala said. "… That was impressive. That’s something I would do on video games.”
Another slow start was a long gone memory by the time Wiggins’ buzzer-beating slam sent No. 3 Maryland (9-0) into the locker room halfway to what became their first ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory in six tries since joining the latter conference. Wiggins’ missed 3-pointer also ended another streak — the Terps’ run of seven straight made baskets, a stretch that saw them go from leading by one point to 13 in less than four minutes. But Wiggins and his fellow sophomores made up for it as Maryland won a ninth straight game to start the season for the first time since 1998-99.
Ayala was responsible for the first three of Maryland’s seven straight makes, his 3-pointer with 3:09 left in the half marking the Terps’ first make from deep after 10 consecutive misses to open the game. He also provided the last of the consecutive baskets before Wiggins’ 3-point miss, a one-handed dunk that sent the Xfinity Center of 15,529 crowd into a frenzy.
Although Wiggins’ dunk was the exclamation point of the half, junior forward Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) said Ayala’s slam provided the largest spike of momentum.
“Eric was much more aggressive, like, ‘I’m making eye contact with you, jump with me, and whatever happens happens,’ " Morsell said. "I liked that better.”
Ayala finished with 14 points, with more than half coming during the Terps’ sharpshooting spurt. Mount Saint Joseph product Jalen Smith recorded his fifth double double with 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds while tying a career high with five blocks, saying after the game he felt “under the weather." Wiggins finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks as the Terps’ deep sophomore class carried the load after the Fighting Irish (6-2) kept it competitive early.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon pointed to the second-year trio’s role in the Terps’ stifling early-season defense. He called Wiggins’ defense “phenomenal” and said Ayala is “twice the defender” he was as a freshman, adding that the team has grown more comfortable having Smith switch onto a guard if necessary.
“I think we’re much tougher than we were last year,” Turgeon said. “We could get pushed around pretty good last year. Now, we’re a much more physical team.”
Before those seven straight baskets, Maryland managed only six successful attempts in their first 23 tries. But the Terps kept Notre Dame from having much offensive success either as the teams combined for 26 points through the first 16 minutes. The Fighting Irish missed 20 of their first 26 shots, going 1-for-11 from 3.
“They smothered us," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "... That was varsity vs. the JV tonight.”
Maryland, meanwhile, turned around its poor shooting start from beyond the arc. The Terps followed their 0-for-10 start by making six of the next nine, with one of those three misses becoming Wiggins’ dunk. Across nearly a full half of game time beginning with the seven makes, Maryland went 19-for-32 from the floor.
“For us, it’s just a matter of time before everything just starts clicking," Ayala said. "Now, we’re experienced and we know how to play, so it’s just a matter of time before we start playing to our capabilities.”
The Terps host Illinois on Saturday to open Big Ten play. Wednesday, they left Brey pleased that they’ve changed conferences.