During the closing seconds of the first half, Maryland men’s basketball sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins watched his three-point attempt clank off the rim then immediately charge to the basket and delivered an empathic putback slam that sent everyone in Xfinity Center into a frenzy on Wednesday against Notre Dame.
“I caught the last second of it,” Maryland sophomore forward Jalen Smith said. “I saw him shoot the three and I thought it went it then I saw him fly out of nowhere to get the rebound and I was like ‘wow.’ ”
It was Wiggins’ energy that helped the third-ranked Terps defeat the Fighting Irish 72-51 and improve to 9-0 for the first time since 1998-99.
Wiggins, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, used his length and physicality to be a strong defensive presence, chasing down three blocks and getting in the middle of passing lanes.
“Aaron is a phenomenal defender,” Terps’ Head Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Guarding the ball, communicating [and] rebounding.”
Defense has become Maryland’s identity this season and it showed against Notre Dame. The Terps held Notre Dame to 29% shooting and appeared to be a brick wall in front of the rim, blocking 10 shots.
Whether the Terps are playing man or running a zone defense, they are continuing to find ways to keep opponents out of rhythm.
“We keep getting better,” Turgeon said. “We got a lot of good defenders and rim protectors. We can be a great team if we continue to guard like that.”
Smith had a career high five blocks to go along with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Smith expanded his offensive game, shooting 2-3 from behind the arc.
Senior guard Anthony Cowan was limited to nine points, but the Terps received help from players like sophomore Eric Ayala and junior Darryl Morsell.
When the Terps were need of an offensive spark, it was Ayala’s seven straight points that helped Maryland create separation from Notre Dame to close out the first half.
“It’s just a matter of time before we start clicking,” Ayala, who tallied 14 points and five rebounds, said. “Now that we are experienced, it’s just a matter of time until we start rolling and playing to our capabilities.”
Ayala had his own highlight moment during Maryland’s first half scoring run that could rival Wiggins’ crowd shaking dunk. Ayala attacked the rim on a fastbreak and delivered a one-handed slam as the defender was closing in.
“His was more impressive by the way he [caught] it,” Ayala said. “But difficulty, I was trailing [and] had to turn then catch it and put it down. I’m a little egotistic about it.”
The Terps kick off Big Ten play on Saturday afternoon when they host Illinois.