“I had some really good looks,” Wiggins said. “Shots didn’t fall. But I didn’t lose any confidence coming off of that game.”
The day after that loss and a three-hour bus ride home, Coach Mark Turgeon met with his top seven players, the core of Maryland’s thin rotation. Wiggins told his teammates he wasn’t trying to miss shots. Even with the schedule becoming slightly easier during the final stretch of the season, the outlook seemed gloomy because of the team’s 4-8 Big Ten record. Turgeon desperately needed to spark a turnaround, and that meeting “kind of opened our eyes,” Wiggins said.
Ever since, Wiggins has fueled Maryland’s rise and led the Terps (14-10, 8-9) to a four-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s home game against a resurgent Michigan State (13-9, 7-9), which has beaten back-to-back top-five teams this week. Three days after the defeat in State College, the Terps lost at home to No. 4 Ohio State, but they played better and Wiggins rebounded with a 17-point outing.
That matchup with the Buckeyes started the best five-game stretch of Wiggins’s college career, with the junior averaging 18 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Before this stretch, Wiggins had averaged more than 16 points across five consecutive games only once in his college career — in January this season, when he scored 16.6 points during a stretch of that length. Wiggins’s contributions and consistency have been a key force in Maryland’s recent ascent. The Terps went from being a team clinging to its NCAA tournament hopes to one that now seems relatively sure of hearing its name on Selection Sunday.
Wiggins made four shots from three-point range in Maryland’s second of back-to-back games against Nebraska, and he made three two weeks ago against Minnesota. But in each of the other three recent matchups, he has hit only one three-pointer. Wiggins is shooting 32.8 percent from deep, and his surge primarily has been powered by his ability to get to the basket.
For the first time in his college career, Wiggins is taking more shots this season from two-point range than from three, and he’s making those two-point baskets at a higher rate than in previous years. During his excellent run this month, Wiggins is attempting 8.8 shots from two-point range, which ties the highest five-game average of his college career.
“He’s really worked hard on driving and getting to the rim and shot-faking,” Turgeon said. “He’s got the complete game there, which is really good to see for him. He’s been aggressive.”
When the Terps led Minnesota by six points with under three minutes to go, Wiggins got the ball with the shot clock winding down. He desperately launched a deep three-pointer and successfully extended the Terps’ cushion so that Minnesota had little chance of climbing back. Maryland’s four-game winning streak began that night, after Turgeon had spent the week convincing his players this season could still be turned around.
When the Terps faced Nebraska on back-to-back nights, Wiggins had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the first outing and then tied his career high with 22 points the next day. During the first matchup, Nebraska, the last-place team in the Big Ten, tied the score with 8:12 remaining. But then a Wiggins burst — five points in less than a minute — lifted the Terps ahead. He scored 12 points in the final eight minutes to seal the win. Wiggins had another double-double at Rutgers on Sunday, recording 13 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Without an elite big man, the Terps have relied on guards fighting for rebounds, and Wiggins has led that effort. At 6-foot-6, Wiggins is second on the team at 5.8 rebounds per game, behind only sophomore forward Donta Scott, who averages 6.7. Wiggins also has recorded 2.6 assists per game, nearly double his mark from last year, and he regularly showcases his refined passing ability. Wiggins has finished with at least five assists in five games this season. As a freshman and sophomore, he never notched more than four.
“I think I’ve improved a lot, just being able to see the court a lot better,” Wiggins said. “I feel like the game has slowed down, and my feel, it’s a lot different from the way I came in as a freshman.”
Wiggins’s recent surge has been boosted by Maryland’s offensive strides. The Terps have moved the ball better lately, and Turgeon said the team’s revamped offense gives Wiggins more freedom. He has stayed aggressive and uses his quickness to create plays for himself.
“He has a fire in his eyes — that confidence that, once he makes a few, every shot’s going in,” teammate Reese Mona said this month.
Wiggins already had generated some of the best performances of his career before the blip at Penn State, and he has continued to play well since. During his time in College Park, Wiggins has shown his potential often, but these bursts of greatness are becoming the norm. He’s finding consistency, and he’s doing so at the time when Maryland needs him most.