COLLEGE PARK, Md – Throughout the season, the Maryland Terrapins have been desperately waiting to find a third scorer to complement the play of Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. They’ve been the stars throughout the year, but if one or both have trouble scoring, the Terps get into trouble. 

Depth is their biggest problem. Head coach Mark Turgeon admitted as such following their loss to Michigan State. There’s no consistent No. 3 guy. One Terp gets hot one game, another the next.

It’s worked for most of the year but in losses the reason why has been obvious. 

Perhaps the answer to their problem is sophomore guard is Eric Ayala. 

Ayala ended his second season with the Terrapins on a high note against Michigan. A season-high 19 points had him one point short of the best mark in his career. On a night that was all about the senior Anthony Cowan Jr., Ayala was the big-shot maker. When the team needed a jolt, whether a big-time 3-point shot, an offensive rebound or just creating a play, Ayala was the guy. 

“That’s the Eric of last year,” Turgeon told reporters postgame. “When we’ve played well at home, he’s made some big shots. He was so good at practice on Friday, it was like whoa. And I look over at coach [Matt] Brady and like, ‘where’s this cat been?’”

After Michigan had clawed back to make it a two-possession game, it was Ayala with the straightaway three to push it back up to a nine-point lead. Two possessions later he hits another. In total, he was 6-for-10 from the field, 3-for-4 from behind the arc.

 

That steadiness is what the Terrapins need to go deep in March. He’s only a 35% shooter on the year (26% from 3-point range) and this game was only his fourth in double-figures since the calendar flipped to a new year. Maryland has survived in the Big Ten, but the lack of another third scorer is one of the reasons they didn't win the title outright. 

“Eric really stepped up and was really aggressive and was able to hit some big-time buckets for us,” Anthony Cowan Jr. said. “I knew it was in him, I knew it was coming and happily he was able to do it tonight.”

But his most important play of the night wasn’t making a shot. In fact, it was him missing one and his response after. Ayala was at the free-throw line to push the advantage up to nine if he made two freebies with five minutes left to go. He missed both. But, a long offensive rebound found his hands and he kicked to Aaron Wiggins in the corner for a huge three. 

“Them two free throws were big,” Ayala said postgame. “I missed and I grabbed that and threw it to Aaron and when he made it, I looked at [Turgeon] and he just start smiling. Like ‘alright if he’s going to take that, it’s a three, we’ll take it.’”

“That’s when I knew we were going to win,” Turgeon said. “I was like ‘alright it’s our day.’”

Maryland will need everything from Cowan and Smith in the postseason. Nothing will be different about that over the next couple of weeks. 

Ayala wasn't even the difference in beating Michigan. He was a nice footnote on a day that won the Terps a title and sent Cowan off a winner. What will get them over the edge, are performances like what Ayala gave Maryland in their win over Michigan.

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