Aaron Wiggins had opportunities before the final timeout to draw Maryland men’s basketball closer to Indiana — open looks on the wing that the sophomore guard frequently knocks down. But in those situations, with his team trailing by multiple possessions against Indiana, Wiggins’ two long-range attempts clanked.
Since being held scoreless for the first time in his collegiate career five games ago, Wiggins rediscovered his shooting stroke, hitting multiple threes in each of his next three outings while coming off the bench. Those two misses down the stretch seemed more reminiscent, however slight, of his short-lived slump against Ohio State and Iowa in early January.
But facing a four-point deficit going into the Terps’ final timeout and just over a minute remaining in the contest, coach Mark Turgeon turned to Wiggins. He had seen those two misses and knew those were shots the sophomore tends to make.
“You’re going to make your next one,” Turgeon told Wiggins.
Wiggins received the ball on the wing once more and began to drive to his left before stepping back and sinking the 3-pointer, setting the stage for a final-minute comeback win. When Wiggins has confidence, his ability from deep can be a difference maker. Often, the confidence that those around Wiggins have in him — even after two open misses — can fuel his own further.
“You can’t sit and think about those misses at all,” Wiggins said. “And knowing your coach and your teammates have your back and they’re telling you to keep shooting it, they’re giving you the basketball in the same place, you’ve just got to stay confident and shoot it.”
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If Turgeon hadn’t believed in Wiggins, the coach said the guard wouldn’t have still been on the floor. Against Iowa on Jan. 10, for instance, when Wiggins went 0-for-4 from the field and gave away the ball three times, he played a season-low 17 minutes.
He remained on the floor against the Hoosiers, though, and as guard Anthony Cowan pushed the pace and the clock ticked below a minute, Wiggins received another opportunity. He sank it.
For much of Big Ten play, Wiggins and guard Eric Ayala haven’t converted from deep at the same rate they had during conference games last season; Wiggins hit 41.3 percent of his long-distance efforts in 2018-19, and Ayala converted 39.2 percent. This year, however, Wiggins is making 34.8 percent of his attempts while Ayala has nailed just 17.1 percent.
[Read more: Jalen Smith’s late layup lifts Maryland men’s basketball to 77-76 victory over Indiana]
But Wiggins has been on an uptick lately, making 46 percent of his tries in the past four games. None were bigger than his three against Indiana with time winding down.
“I always try to keep Aaron positive,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “He missed two open shots at the end of the second half. I said, ‘Aaron, keep shooting, man. We need it. It’s going to come.’”
Even when Wiggins struggled — hitting five of his 23 three-point attempts during a six-game span between December and January — his teammates saw signs that he would soon find his stroke in games. And all of a sudden, in bits and spurts, the whole team followed suit.
The Terps shot 53.85 percent in the first half against Purdue, building enough of a cushion to overcome a meager final 20 minutes. And against Northwestern, Maryland hit eight second-half 3-pointers. The 48.2 percent shooting overall and 12 triples that flowed out against the Hoosiers led to a second Big Ten road win. Wiggins played a part in that.
“Him hitting shots is big for us,” Morsell said. “It just gives us a whole different dynamic.”
When asked Wednesday in the buildup to the Terps’ next conference test — a rematch against No. 18 Iowa at Xfinity Center on Thursday — if anything about his shot felt different, Wiggins decided to deliver the obvious.
“Uh, yeah,” Wiggins said. “I mean, it’s going in.”
He’s not wrong. The ball is going in. And for Maryland, that’s good news.