COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland needed some time to get its offense going Wednesday night against Notre Dame. The third-ranked Terrapins’ defense, though, was never a problem.
Maryland held the Fighting Irish below 30 percent shooting in both halves, Jalen Smith had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds and the Terps cruised to a 72-51 victory in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Notre Dame scored only four points in a span of 12:31 in the first half, struggling to find any decent looks against Maryland’s deep, lengthy, rangy rotation.
“I feel like it’s starting to become our identity,” sophomore guard Eric Ayala said. “We lock in defensively, our offense feeds off of that and we get out in transition and we make plays. It’s fun when we can just turn it on like that and everybody is just so into it on the defensive end.”
Ayala scored 14 points and Aaron Wiggins added 11 for the Terrapins (9-0), who are off to their best start since winning 10 in a row to open the 1998-99 season.
John Mooney had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Notre Dame (6-2), which had won six in a row since opening the season with a loss at North Carolina.
“That was varsity versus the JV tonight,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We were the JV. The varsity toyed with us tonight. Hopefully we can rebound because we have a league game on Saturday, but I’m really impressed with them. The sky’s the limit for them.”
Maryland trailed 9-4 early on, but its defense ensured the Irish was never comfortable.
Ayala scored seven points in a row to turn a one-point game into a 21-13 lead, and later delivered a tomahawk slam a minute before the break. Wiggins capped the half by getting the carom from his missed 3-pointer and slamming it home for a 32-20 lead.
“We were kind of walking on eggshells offensively at the start,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We weren’t aggressive enough, and we have to be a little bit more aggressive out of the chute.”
Smith recorded his fifth double-double of the season, matching his total from all of last season.
He was vital in the defensive effort, matching his career high with five blocks. Wiggins swatted three shots and helped harass Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs into a scoreless night with 11 missed field goals. Gibbs entered the night averaging 12 points.
“I think we’re much tougher than we were last year,” Turgeon said. “We could get pushed around last year and now we’re a much more physical team.”
Notre Dame never cut the deficit to less than 10 in the second half as Maryland snapped a six-game skid in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a streak that began when the Terps were still in the ACC.
Notre Dame: The Irish missed out on the first of their three chances for a noteworthy nonconference victory this month. Notre Dame will get chances at home against UCLA (Dec. 14) and in Indianapolis against Indiana (Dec. 21) for a brand-name triumph outside the ACC.
Maryland: The evidence continues to build that the Terps are an elite defensive team. Three days after holding Marquette star Markus Howard to just six points, Maryland smothered the Fighting Irish, limiting them to 29.0 percent from the floor.
Maryland, which rose to No. 3 in this week’s poll after winning the Orlando Invitational, did nothing to dent its lofty ranking in the first of two games this week.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish begin a three-game homestand Saturday, facing Boston College in their first ACC game in more than a month.
Maryland: The Terps open conference play on Saturday at home against Illinois, the first of two league games in a span of four days.
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