Eric Ayala’s clutch-free throws clinch Maryland’s resilient win over No. 24 Purdue

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

As the last 10 seconds of the game waned off the clock, guard Eric Ayala drove aggressively towards the basket on the isolation looking to exploit his matchup while being guarded by the much taller Trevion Williams. 

Ayala penetrated towards the basket, but missed the initial shot short. He then fought his way towards the ball coming off the rim and corralled an incredibly tough rebound with three Boilermakers around him. Ayala was fouled on his follow-up attempt and drilled two clutch free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining in Maryland’s (10-8, 4-7 B1G) gutsy 61-60 win over No. 24 Purdue (12-7, 7-5 B1G). 

“As I went for the layup, I realized probably halfway through the air that I didn’t get the foul, so either I was gonna make it or it was gonna come short,” Ayala said. “As soon as my feet touched the ground I just tried to get back up there as quick as I could.”

The win marked Maryland’s fourth over a ranked opponent this season and also secured the Terps first home conference win of the season. Aaron Wiggins led Maryland with 18 points including three triples in the second half, while Ayala contributed 16 and Darryl Morsell added 11.

Maryland is now 20-2 in the last two seasons, when Morsell scores 10 or more points.

“We had some really big rebounds late,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “There was some big gutsy toughness, guys just competing their tails off type rebounds for us and it was great to see.”

Despite being out rebounded 33-24, Ayala’s last-second board was a sign of Maryland’s guts and resilience. While Maryland made clutch free throws down the stretch, its suffocating defense on the other end of the floor was persistent throughout. 

That has been a constant theme in Maryland’s success against ranked opponents this season — playing stifling defense and not allowing its struggles offensively to negatively impact them on defense. 

“For us to win we have to play well defensively for 40 minutes and we did,” Turgeon said. “Held them to 60, which is terrific.”

The first half, Maryland needed its defense to perform at a high-level as the struggles shooting from the perimeter persisted. The Terps shot a porous 8% from behind the arc on 12 attempts, but didn’t allow that to impact their energy on defense. Purdue committed 11 first-half turnovers, struggling with the Terps’ active hands and quick defensive rotations.

While Maryland’s defense was solid for a majority of the opening 20 minutes, Williams still found success with nine first half points. Maryland threw a variety of primary defenders at the talented big men and sent swarming help defense from one of the guards on nearly every possession. 

That being said, Maryland’s collective effort defensively ensured that they only trailed by three at half.

With Purdue leading 35-30 with 15:56 remaining, Mason Gillis and Williams gathered back-to-back offensive rebounds and it seemed like the Boilermakers were poised to take control of the game. 

However, Maryland promptly answered in the ensuing three minutes, as Wiggins knocked down two triples and Ayala buried one, which gave Maryland a 39-38 lead. Those shots were a sign of Maryland’s heightened confidence shooting from behind the arc. 

“Our mindset was just stay confident and we knew shots were going to fall in the second half,” Wiggins said. “We knew there was no way we’d go 1 for 12 in the second half again, once we got going there was nothing that you could do to stop us.”

Purdue answered back immediately with four consecutive points from Zach Edey retaking the lead by a slim margin. After Edey’s consecutive baskets, Purdue’s offense was fueled by Jaden Ivey and Williams who combined to score 16 points from the 8:51-3:49 mark. 

Ivey found success attacking the basket with his speed, while Williams continued to find success in the low post. Williams’ final bucket of the game came with 3:49 remaining as he threw down a ferocious dunk after Donta Scott went for the steal.

Despite trailing by seven with less than four minutes remaining, Maryland played its most consistent basketball of the game when it mattered most. Ayala answered Williams’ dunk with a three followed by a free throw from Morsell, which cut the deficit to three.

Guard Eric Hunter Jr. knocked down a deep two from straight on followed by a pair of free throws from Ivey, which gave the Boilermakers some added breathing room. As they did all night, Maryland immediately responded. 

Morsell drilled a wing three on the feed from Ayala, which cut the deficit to two with 1:33 remaining. The final 1:33, Maryland delivered its most pivotal defensive possessions of the night. 

First, the Terps forced a contested three from Ivey. On the ensuing possession, Ayala knocked down 1 of 2 free throws at the line— with Maryland still needing a basket to the lead.

“I think all of the guys that were on the floor at the end of the game were on the championship team last year,” Morsell said. “We know how important defense is and coach Turgeon trusts us and gives the confidence to go out and play.”

The Terps defense proved up to the task once again as Ivey missed a tough fade-away jumper on the right side and Wiggins grabbed his 11th rebound of the night. After a timeout by Turgeon, Ayala attacked his matchup and the aforementioned clutch free throws secured Maryland’s victory.

Purdue made one last attempt for the win, but the Boilermakers couldn’t put up a shot as Williams was called for a double dribble. Fittingly, Morsell Maryland’s defensive tone-setter received the inbounds pass from Hakim Hart that closed out the final 0.4 seconds of the game, as the Terps picked up a much-needed home victory.

“It was great to see us lock in those [final] 2-3 minutes and get the win, I’m happy for us,” Morsell said.

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