COLLEGE PARK, Md. — On at least three occasions Tuesday night, Maryland swingman Eric Ayala Jr. took high-pressure shots that could’ve pushed the Terps to late-minute leads against 13th-ranked Michigan State.
Instead, the ball failed to go through the rim — and the rest, as they say, is hoop history, as the Terps fell to the pesky Spartans, 65-63.
Spartans reserve center Malik Hall hit a game-winning layup in the waning seconds that quieted nearly 18,000 raucus Terrapin fans at the Xfinity Center.
Even with the late misses, Ayala led the Terps’ with 15 points while displaying a diverse repertoire of nifty short-range jumpers, put-backs and a fearlessness to shoot from beyond the arc. Most importantly, he took on a leadership role as the team’s primary ball-handler.
Ayala was instrumental in the Terps’ late-game push to tie the game in the final minutes, despite eventually falling short.
“There’s a maturity involved,” he said after the game. “I’m at a point now where I don’t hesitate when the situation calls for someone to take the big shot.”
Ayala noted that while his on-court demeanor may sometimes appear easygoing, he’s had an underlying drive for success since his early years of hoop dreams.
“Certainly, the next level is something I yearned for,” said the 23-year-old, who stopped short of committing to the NBA draft a year ago, opting instead to return to College Park.
Regarding interim head coach Danny Manning, who took over for former head coach Mark Turgeon in December, Ayala said he and his teammates “respect him to the max.”
“I realize where he’s been, so I personally pay strict attention to Coach Manning,” he said.
The Wilmington, Del., native, who came to Maryland as a top recruit from premier AAU team WeR1, is one of three sons of his father, Eric Ayala Sr., and the only son of his mother Brandy Truitt, a police officer.
“I have a great relationship with both my parents,” Ayala said.
Concerning his college career, Ayala bluntly states: “If we athletes weren’t relegated to the rigors of practice and other workout requirements, it would make earning a college degree a lot more practical.”
Ayala said he is majoring in family science and plans to utilize his degree, whether he goes to the NBA or not.