Typically, freshmen basketball players play better at home than on the road, feeling more comfortable with an environment that features friendly fans and familiarity with the court. It’s especially true for shooters, who know which rims provide favorable bounces.
For Maryland’s Aaron Wiggins, playing at home at Xfinity Center has not brought as much individual success as being on the road, as evidenced by the fact that the 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing has scored more and shot the ball better when the No. 24 Terps leave College Park, as they will do for Tuesday’s game at No. 21 Iowa.
In fact, Wiggins equaled his career-high of 15 points in Saturday’s 65-52 road loss at then-No. 6 Michigan, matching the total he had in a similar 69-55 loss at then-No. 6 Michigan State last month. In eight Big Ten road games this season, Wiggins is averaging a little over nine points, three more than his average in six conference games at Xfinity Center. He is also shooting 18-for-38 on 3-pointers (47.3 percent) on the road, compared with 9-for-29 (31 percent) at home.
“He’s gotten more aggressive,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Monday after practice. “He’s led us in scoring at Michigan State and Michigan, he made some big shots versus Purdue [last week]. The shots are there. He’s just got to be willing to take ’em. … I’m glad, because it really helps us when Aaron scores. It got us back in the game the other day, as bad as we were playing.”
Wiggins said that he doesn’t change his approach between playing at home and on the road.
“I try to play with the same energy level every game,” he said Monday. “Being on the road or having a home court advantage, it doesn’t really matter. I just go out there and play basketball, which I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve always been prepared to play on a big stage. That’s something I’ve done back in high school, AAU, same thing. It’s natural, it’s just me, going out and playing my game wherever it’s at.”
His performance against the Wolverines helped the Terps overcome an early 15-point deficit and make the game competitive for a stretch in the second half. It followed an 11-point outing in last Tuesday’s 70-56 win over then-No. 12 Purdue, when he and fellow freshmen Jalen Smith and Eric Ayala combined for 21 straight points in the second half.
During that run, when Maryland overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and took control by outscoring the Boilermakers 40-18 in the second half, Wiggins played his part, including scoring on two straight possessions with a step-back 3-pointer as well as a pull-up jumper near the free-throw line. Wiggins, like most shooters, grows more confident when he sees the nets shake after a shot falls through.
“After seeing a few shots go on in the first half, it was just confidence, and realizing that my shots were falling,” Wiggins said Friday. “The opportunity presented itself, so I was just taking open shots with confidence with confidence. My teammates encouraged me that if I get an open shot to shoot it and not hesitate.”
Wiggins credits sophomore guard Darryl Morsell for helping make what has been a mostly smooth transition from high school to college. While Wiggins has spent the season serving as Morsell’s backup, the two often square up in practice.
“He’s definitely pushed me to be a better offensive player, and even a better defensive player,” Wiggins said the day before the Michigan game. “We always match up against each other playing close to the same position. He’s a really great defender. Just making sure I try and stay aggressive.
“He’s helped when it comes to ball-handling, shooting open shots, having a quick release and stuff. His defense has definitely made a huge difference on me. Me defensively from having to guard the ball and keeping guys from penetrating and coming off screens, fighting through screens.”
Like most shooters, Wiggins had a sense that he was going to have a good game from the moment he stepped onto the court at Michigan’s Crisler Center.
“I felt good in warmups and I knew that when I stepped onto the court [during the game] I’m always confident in every shot I take,” Wiggins said Saturday after the game. “Both shots [he tried in the first half] are going in, I’ve got to shoot when I’m open.”
Not that Wiggins expects to be more than a complementary player at this stage of his career and the season.
“I’m not thinking to myself, ‘Oh they’ve got to find me’ or anything,” he said. “As a team, it’s hard to stop each and every individual. Bruno [Fernando] had a rough first half [going scoreless]. He came out in the second half and played really good [to finish with 12 points]. We had to find him. We’ve been playing through him through the whole season and it’s worked really well. I think it’s a matter of us continuing to play team ball and we’re all in it together.”
Turgeon said that might even have to tweak his rotation a bit if Wiggins continues to be productive, going to more of a four-guard set at times if the Terps struggle to score inside, which happened in the first half Saturday in Ann Arbor.
“It depends on the game,” Turgeon said. “We’ve talked about it. Darryl can play the 4 [power forward] if we need to. We practiced it a little bit of it today. I get Aaron in there as quickly as we can. He went in and never came out in the second half [against Michigan].”
Ayala, who was often matched up against Wiggins in AAU tournaments and camps during their high school years, is not so cautious about what he believes his fellow freshman’s role should be and how much potential he has.
“We need Aaron to come in and light it up,” Ayala said Monday. “I know what he’s capable of. When he goes out there and played like he played [against Michigan and Purdue], it’s not surprising to me. When he goes out there and scores, that’s what I’m used to seeing him do. .. A couple of guys on our team might not know, but me personally I’ve been on the other side with him shooting the ball on me. I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere near how good he can be.”