This year, it seems like good things happen when the ball is in Eric Ayala’s hands. After leading the team in scoring for two straight games, the junior guard has cemented his role on the team moving forward. As the top scorer, it’s up to him to set the tone on the offensive side of the ball and provide a healthy serving of points. Ayala played this role masterfully and Maryland (3-0) ultimately benefited as the Terps used a 21-0 run in the final nine minutes of the second half en route to a 79-61 victory.
Ayala, along with the rest of Terps, endured a characteristic slow start in the first 15 minutes of the game. And Mount St. Mary’s enjoyed a comfortable lead for the majority of the period, shooting over 50% from three. However, as fate would have it, the momentum of the game shifted in the Terps favor. Ayala spearheaded the comeback effort, which allowed the Terps to gain their first lead of the game. As he had all season thus far, Ayala found his spots from within the arc and scored a pair from the charity stripe to give Maryland a considerable lead to end the half.
The uninspired basketball that Maryland opened the game with was nothing new, it was the hiccups in crunch time that allowed the Mount to take control in what should’ve been a regular season tune-up match.
“I welcome a game like that,” head coach Mark Turgeon said, “We were behind in the second half and had to gut it out … which was great to see our guys did it.”
The first eight minutes of the game featured a three point barrage led by shooting guard Jalen Gibbs of the Mountaineers. The nine-point deficit that came from the offensive efforts of Gibbs prompted an equally convincing effort by Maryland to earn their first lead. Following a pair of threes by Hakeem Hart and a complementary triple from Jairus Hamilton, Ayala tallied the final 10 points of the half. He finished the game totaling 15 points. Leading 41-32 entering the second period, the Terps were looking to maintain momentum to close things out.
Instead, they fell victim to an efficient, overwhelming shooting display by the Mountaineers. Only this time, it was a more balanced scoring effort that allowed the Mount to tie the game up at 58. Guard Damian Chong Qui picked up where Gibbs left off as he carried the offensive load and scored seven of his nine points in the second half. After his smooth stepback three that evened up the score, things were looking different for both Maryland and The Mount.
A combined 15 points by Chong Qui and forward Malik Jefferson in the first 10 minutes of the final half gave Mount St Mary’s an opening to play spoiler. However, this opening proved to be brief. With nine minutes left to play, Jefferson scored the last meaningful points for the Mountaineers as the Terps orchestrated a seven-minute, 21-0 run headed by a Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton frontcourt duo. Scott and Hamilton ended the game with a combined total of 30 points and 10 boards. The frontcourt tandem, along with Darryl Morsell and Ayala each scored during the run and ended the game with double digits.
“It’s not a lineup we’ve practiced with a lot,” Turgeon said. “But it’s gonna be a lineup we probably play more as the season goes on.”
Although it was not the preferred level of play against a non-conference opponent, the Terps left with a victory, their third win, and a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t regarding their lineup. Up next, Maryland looks to continue their early season success against Towson on December 1st.