Eric Ayala has been a standout for Maryland Basketball from the moment he stepped onto the court in College Park. In his final year in a terrapins uniform, Ayala gets the opportunity to solely focus on something he does extremely well; putting the rock in the basket. There’s no doubt that the combination of Ayala and current Oklahoma City guard Aaron Wiggins would’ve been must-see tv this season if the aforementioned Wiggins decided to remain in College Park for his senior year.
Instead, Eric Ayala finds himself paired with a new (but familiar) PG in Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell. He also finds himself as one of the de facto leaders of this year’s team, averaging a team-leading 15.4 points a game and providing a number of clutch moments early in the season already. The growth of his offensive and defensive floor game has been on display, often taking what’s given to him on offense and applying effective on-ball pressure during critical portions of games. As the season rolls into this early thanksgiving Bahamas tourney, there are a few things that the Terps will need from Ayala to ensure that the Terps come out on top.
Continued Offensive Aggression
Ayala has made a living attacking the rim during the opening stretch of this season. In light of the team’s abysmal shooting from the 3 point line so far ( 25.4% from the arc, good for 345th nationally), Eric’s ability to create off the dribble has provided a spark during extremely sparse stretches on the offensive end of the court. In the mold of Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan, Ayala has developed a knack for drawing fouls and finishing through tough contact. While Eric could stand to be a little more efficient from the free throw stripe (%73.3 through five games), he’s so effective in getting into the lane and finishing that those numbers are bound to steadily increase as the season progresses. In short, he’s been able to flourish in the role of strictly being a scoring guard. Maryland Basketball will benefit from his continued progression as solely a scoring option.
High Basketball IQ on Display
Eric Ayala is arguably one of the savviest players, not just in the Big Ten, but in the country. Last season, he was forced into a primary role as a lead guard, often going for long stretches of games being both the initiator and focal point of an offense that relied on the versatility of the 5 players on the court. This year, he’s being asked to just be a scoring option, but those point guard instincts have been on display on the defensive end of the floor. His partnership with Fatts Russell, Ian Martinez, and Hakim Hart has been a disruptive one for opposing backcourts. His last-minute defensive gem against Hofstra could turn out to be one of the more pivotal plays of a long and challenging season. It sure did stop a potential meltdown of random areas of the Maryland Basketball fanbase if that game went the other way. Ayala’s court smarts will continue to be a big part of the collective development for this team.
Yes, the Bahamas will give the terrapin faithful another opportunity to see this team grow. Richmond, Missisippi State, and potentially Louisville are waiting in the wings as opponents. Whomever the Terps face, you can be sure that the play of Eric Ayala will be essential to the success of the team in this tournament, and going forward into the meat of the regular season.