Aidan McCool strolled to the free-throw line with a little over two minutes left. It wasn’t exactly crunch time — Maryland men’s basketball held a 38-point lead over Wingate at the time.
But for McCool, a walk-on who had only seen the court one other time prior to Friday afternoon’s game, the moment was all the more special.
He dribbled the ball three times, keeping it low. Spun it in his hands. Then, he released.
It fell through. McCool was officially a college basketball scorer. And his teammates let him know, chanting and embracing him from the sideline.
The day was filled with moments like these. Four Terps got themselves off the scoring mark, part of a performance in which Maryland racked up a season-high 27 assists en route to a 100-58 win.
“We got guys minutes. It’s really what we wanted to get out of today,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I don’t know if we could’ve drawn it up any better.”
The Terps — who scheduled the Bulldogs shortly after finding out that their game against Nebraska would be postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Cornhuskers’ program — were without junior guard Eric Ayala, still recovering after tweaking a groin injury against No. 5 Iowa. Hakim Hart took his place in the lineup.
And as the game started, it was Wingate on top, fueled by Francis Sio. The redshirt junior guard impressed early, knocking down a pair of jumpers to push Wingate out in front.
Aaron Wiggins matched Sio’s shot-making, cashing in a three to keep things tight. Still, it wasn’t particularly fluid for the Terps. They turned the ball over on consecutive possessions partway through the first, part of a two-minute stretch where Maryland’s offense stagnated.
Turgeon made his frustration known at the next media timeout, yelling and cursing as he pushed his players to move the ball quicker.
“We got really selfish. Took two really bad shots in a row,” Turgeon said. “I just want guys to play the right way. Play every possession the right way offensively and defensively and we weren’t doing that.”
Turgeon’s tirade seemed to work. The Terps broke out of their stupor, slinging the ball around the perimeter. Cracks began to show in the Bulldogs’ zone defense, with Maryland finding open space around the arc.
And Wiggins was the beneficiary, finding open space around the arc, knocking home a pair to triples to give the Terps a 27-23 advantage.
That lead would soon grow, with the junior getting himself more involved in the offense. He notched 21 points — 18 of which came in the opening period. It’s the third time in the last four games that Wiggins has scored at least 17 points, a feat he didn’t match in any of the first 10 games of the season.
“Getting into a little bit of a flow, we’re moving the ball a lot better as a team, getting guys a lot of open shots,” Wiggins said. “It opens up the court for everybody. Just getting into a flow and staying aggressive, just one thing I try to continue to do.”
And although Sio kept his scoring up, the Bulldogs were unable to overcome Maryland’s growing confidence. Come halftime, their four-point advantage had vanished, replaced by a 47-34 deficit.
The Terps’ lead would only swell in the second, courtesy of a balanced team effort. Smith started the half with a bang, rising through contact to throw down a forceful two-handed jam. It was the highlight of a career-high 13-point display; yet another marker of Smith’s growing sense of belonging within the team.
“It was just a really good feeling, you know, to be able to have that and have [my teammates] support me right there,” Smith said.
Wiggins’ scoring slowed as Turgeon looked to get his bench involved. Still, the Terps didn’t let up. And it was freshman James Graham who became the focal point, pouring in 10 points, all in the second half. They were the first points of his college career.
“I’m happy for him. It’s a very tough situation, but I think he’s more alert to what needs to done for him to help our team be successful,” Turgeon said.
Soon, it was the walk-ons turn to soak in the spotlight. McCool and Brahmbhatt opened their scoring accounts for Turgeon’s squad, as did Arnaud Revaz. Meanwhile, Maryland’s stalwarts — Wiggins, Morsell, Donta Scott — watched along on the bench, a brief, but joyous role reversal amid a season unlike any other.
“That was awesome,” Wiggins said. “It’s just always fun seeing those guys that make us better in practice every single day … go out there and be able to do what they’ve done in practice and contribute to the game.”