- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2019

COLLEGE PARK — Slow starts aren’t the be-all and end-all for a basketball team. For proof, just check out the Maryland Terrapins.

In almost every game this season, the third-ranked team in the country has struggled to build early leads, occasionally trailing at halftime to teams like Temple and Harvard. Coach Mark Turgeon figured the Terrapins would have a few more weak starts this season, but he was more concerned with them putting together solid, complete games.

Once the shots started to fall, Maryland did just that on Wednesday, outplaying Notre Dame and cruising to a 72-51 win to stay undefeated. It marks the Terrapins’ first 9-0 start since the 1998-99 season.

Sophomore big man Jalen Smith led Maryland with 15 points, a career-best 16 rebounds and five blocks, and sophomore guard Eric Ayala added 14 points and a team-high five assists.

Maryland couldn’t build a meaningful lead over Notre Dame in the first 15 minutes, but a 10-0 run late in the half nudged the Terrapins ahead. On back-to-back Notre Dame possessions after the under 4-minute timeout, Ayala picked up defensive rebounds and scored on his own in transition — first a layup, then a 3-pointer.



That pushed Maryland’s lead to 21-13, but the offense wasn’t done. Sixteen of the Terrapins’ 32 first-half points came in the final four minutes. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey — who heaped praise on Maryland and called the game “varsity versus the JV” — said the Terrapins’ late run in that half “broke” the Irish.

In the closing seconds, Aaron Wiggins shot from long range and caught iron. But he sprinted in and put the rebound back for a crushing dunk just before the buzzer, giving Maryland a 32-20 lead.

“Might make (“SportsCenter”) Top 10, obviously, which is good for Aaron,” Turgeon said, then joking, “But I (told him), he knew he missed it so he followed his shot right away.”

Smith and Wiggins made sure Maryland kept its momentum going with consecutive 3-pointers in the early goings of the second half. Later, Smith found Anthony Cowan and fed him for a nice crossing layup, and Ayala and Cowan added 3-pointers as the lead eventually grew to as many as 25 points.

Cowan finished with nine points and two assists. Wiggins had 11 points and Darryl Morsell added 10.

Notre Dame’s main source of offense was forward John Mooney, who led all players with 17 points mostly scored in and around the paint. Besides him, Smith made things tough for the Irish down low. His five blocks tied a career high set last March against LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Smith wasn’t the only player contributing at that end of the floor.

“Our defense was terrific for 40 minutes,” Turgeon said. “We were alert, we were communicating, we did a lot of good things. I thought transition defense was terrific. If you know anything about Notre Dame, they’re really good in transition. They get quick threes in transition and we took that away most of the night.”

Both teams had ugly shooting starts — Notre Dame was 5-for-24 at one point, and Maryland was 5-for-21 and missed its first 10 3-point tries. But the Fighting Irish never found their stroke, while the Terrapins turned it around in the first and remained hotter the rest of the way.

Big Ten play opens for the Terrapins on Saturday when they welcome Illinois to campus. After that, Maryland heads to Penn State on Tuesday before Big Ten play hits “pause” again until January.

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