By: Eric Myers
Guard Eric Ayala said he wasn’t surprised that he made the 3-pointer after his dribble left Carsen Edwards falling to the surface of Gary Williams Court.
He was surprised, however, when a reporter mentioned after the game that Maryland men’s basketball’s freshmen scored 21 straight points in the second half.
“You said 21 straight points?” Ayala responded to the question. “By the freshmen? Oh, wow. That’s tough.”
That scoring run from the first-year players helped lead No. 24 Maryland’s second-half comeback past No. 12 Purdue, who they eventually beat 70-56 on Tuesday night at the Xfinity Center.
It was Jalen Smith who initiated the freshmen frenzy with a layup, a dunk off Bruno Fernando’s pass out of the double team and a floater in the lane. The big man’s six-straight points for the Terps helped him overcome a 1-of-7 shooting first half to finish 7-of-15 with a team-high 16 points.
“I feel like [Jalen] grew up,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “He grew up from a freshman in college in the first half to a grown man in the second half.”
With Smith’s string of points, Maryland cut Purdue’s eight-point halftime lead down to two. But Purdue and Edwards had the answer at that time. After a Matt Haarms free throw, Edwards hit a pull-up 3-point shot and pushed the Boilermaker lead back to six.
After the ball found the bottom of the net, Ayala brought the ball up to half-court on the ensuing possession. As the freshman crossed the half-court line, he faked a crossover that shook Edwards to the floor. Ayala handed off to fellow guard Anthony Cowan, then sprinted to the wing. Cowan found his backcourt running mate, and Ayala knocked down the 3-point shot.
Edwards tried to immediately respond on the other end of the floor, but his 3-point shot fell well short of reaching the backet.
Following the airball, Maryland took possession and earned an inbounds play with a foul. During that under-12 media timeout, coach Mark Turgeon drew up a play for Ayala. The guard curled off a screen from Fernando to the corner, received the pass and hit his second-consecutive perimeter shot to tie the game at 48.
“That was huge. That was the game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We don’t lose the game right there, but we’re also in a position to push that lead and we don’t.”
As Purdue failed to extend that lead, Maryland capitalized and took their first lead of the game at 50-48 at about 10 minutes to play with a lob pass from just within midcourt to a streaking Smith in transition for the alley-oop dunk.
Guard Aaron Wiggins also scored five straight points to add to the freshmen scoring run and to Maryland’s lead.
Ayala’s back-to-back 3-point shots signified another turn in the game beyond just tying the score. After Ayala’s dribble put him to the floor, Edwards shot 0-for-6 from the field and scored his only two points at the free-throw line.
That trend was a part of a second half where Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer entering the game at 24.6 points per contest, shot 2-of-13 and scored seven points. Those shooting and scoring numbers were an instrumental part of the Terps holding the Boilermakers to 18 points after the halftime break.
Morsell led the charge on defending Edwards and tried to make every shot difficult, which especially rang true in that second half following Edwards’ 17 points before halftime.
“I was locked in. He had 17 in the first half, so I kind of took it personal,” Morsell said.
The defensive effort from Morsell and the rest of the Terps allowed the freshmen scoring run to stand up in the end.
“Our freshmen [are] growing up,” Fernando said. “Just them having the confidence they have and stepping up in game situations like that, it’s great for us.”