Maryland freshman guard Eric Ayala talks about the play of the team’s freshmen in Tuesday’s 70-56 win over No. 12 Purdue. (Baltimore Sun video by Don Markus)
When Maryland lost by two points at Purdue on Dec. 6, coach Mark Turgeon's biggest point leaving Mackey Arena was how young his team played, particularly with the game on the line.
A little more than two months later, the Big Ten's youngest team showed how much it had grown up.
Faced with an 11-point deficit to the No. 12 Boilermakers and sophomore center Bruno Fernando in foul trouble in the second half Tuesday, three of Maryland's freshmen showed how good the No. 24 Terps can be.
Led by forward Jalen Smith, guard Eric Ayala and wing Aaron Wiggins, Maryland erased the deficit as the freshmen trio combined to score 21 straight Terps points and finished off a 70-56 victory over Purdue on a 20-6 run. Maryland outscored the Boilermakers 40-18 in the second half.
Maryland freshmen Jalen Smith, Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins combined for 21 straight points in one stretch as the No. 24 Terps erased an 11-point deficit in the second half to beat No. 12 Purdue, 70-56.
Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) finished with 16 points, including 14 in the second half, while Ayala scored 15, including back-to-back 3-pointers that proved critical, and Wiggins added 11 points off the bench.
The victory broke an eight-game winning streak for Purdue (17-7, 10-3 Big Ten) and ended Maryland's five-game losing streak to the Boilermakers dating to the 2015-16 season. It was also the biggest win of the season for Maryland (19-6, 10-4).
"It was a great feeling, definitely fun just watching," said sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph). "Aaron played with confidence. Stix [Smith] grew up from a freshman in college in the first half to a grown man in the second half.
"Eric just being Eric, doing what he does. Even Serrel [Smith Jr.], and Ricky [Lindo Jr.] as well. They just grew up a lot tonight. We needed them. They came through for us. I think this confidence they gained from this can help us in the long run."
Morsell and Fernando, along with junior Anthony Cowan Jr., also did their part. Cowan had 12 points, six assists and four rebounds, but committed six turnovers. Fernando finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for his seventh straight double double.
After junior guard Carsen Edwards scored his team's first eight points and 17 in the first half to help the Boilermakers take a 38-30 halftime lead, Morsell's defense limited the Big Ten's leading scorer to seven points after the break.
Edwards finished with a game-high 24 points, but missed 11 of his 13 shots after halftime and 19 of 27 he attempted for the game. The Terps held the Boilermakers to 6-for-36 shooting in the second half.
Purdue coach Matt Painter was more impressed with the defense of Maryland's freshmen and how much they've grown since the teams' first meeting than he was with the youngsters' offense.
"Give those guys credit. They have a bunch of 19-year-olds running around out there making shots and making plays," Painter said. "Pretty cool to see guys grow.
"The thing that kind of amazed me about Maryland is young guys are normally not very good defenders. It takes them a while. They think they are, but they're not. These guys can guard. Turge has done a great job with those guys."
Turgeon, who has received his share of criticism for his teams at Maryland struggling in February, said he didn't do as much schematically during halftime as "try to change their body language and believing we can win and play well."
As for the way the freshmen have grown since the 62-60 loss to the Boilermakers on Dec. 6, Turgeon said, "It's crazy. I went back and watched that film, and it made my stomach hurt. Man, we were young.
"We just played and just gutted it out, but we had no business in that game, and we've come a long way. They're young guys, but they have a lot of experience now and they just keep getting better."
Ayala’s big 3-pointers
Though Jalen Smith scored the first eight points and 12 overall during the run of 21 points by Maryland's freshmen, Ayala's back-to-back 3-pointers were the biggest shots of the game in Painter's eyes.
Both came with Edwards defending him.
The first 3-pointer came from the right side when Ayala faked as if he were going right, which caused Edwards to fall and opened some space for the 6-foot-5 point guard to shoot.
The first helped the Terps cut their deficit to 48-45. After Morsell forced Edwards into a straightaway airball right before the under-12 minute media timeout, Ayala's 3-pointer from the left side tied the game at 48.
Asked about the first 3-pointer, Ayala said, "It was just another basketball play for me personally. I work on those shots every day. It didn't come as a surprise to me that I hit the shot because that is something I shoot every single day."
Said Painter: "That was huge, that was the game. We don't lose the game right there, but we were also in position to push that lead, and we don't. Ayala hits that shot, he gets another off an out-of-bounds play. … I thought they were huge."
Cutting down on turnovers
Maryland had seven turnovers in the first half, to only two for Purdue. After making four turnovers over the first 10:09 of the second half, the Terps played the last 9:51 without committing a single turnover.
"Bruno kept quick-jumping the pass [out of the post] and that was his, and Anthony just settled down," Turgeon said. "The other guys just played a lot more poised and our half-court offense was better. We were very confident and we work on it.
"We keep turnovers in every drill that we do, and we talk about it and we're trying to get better. We have a young team and 11 is a good number for us. And Anthony is not going to have six every night, so we just have to keep working and talking about it."