Nearly five minutes into the second half of a nonconference matchup between Maryland and Brown at Xfinity Center Dec. 30, junior forward Donta Scott nailed a 3-point shot. It marked Maryland’s first 3-pointer of the game and put the Terps within one of their opponent.

Graduate guard Fatts Russell soon sprinted down the court with his opponents and teammates trailing behind him. A fast-break layup from Russell gave the Terps a one-point lead (46-45).

That was the momentum that Maryland needed against Brown. The Terps controlled the game from that moment and even went on a 13-0 run at one point.

Contributions from the starting five helped Maryland (8-4) secure an 81-67 victory and extend its winning streak to three games.

“For us to close out the month on a three-game win streak will give us confidence going into Big Ten play,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “And that’s just a testament to the willpower and desire of our guys going out there and wanting to make something happen.”

The Terrapins will face Iowa on Monday, Jan. 3 and tackle a full Big Ten schedule for the remainder of the season. Here are five things to know heading into conference play.

1. Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart’s energy make the Terps better.

Senior guard Eric Ayala and junior guard Hakim Hart have been difference-makers recently for the Terps.

Ayala tallied 20 points and four rebounds against Lehigh Dec. 28. He was 8-for-13 from the field and 3-for-6 from behind the arc. The senior had six quick points after halftime, which allowed the Terps to establish a 45-34 lead with a little more than 17 minutes remaining in the game.

And that dominant play continued against Brown Dec. 30. The Wilmington, Del., native posted 22 points and eight rebounds. He was also 8-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Ayala has now scored in double figures in 10 games this season.

Hart has also established himself as a significant part of this team. He tallied five steals against Lehigh. The Philadelphia native averages two steals per game, second most in the Big Ten behind Rutgers’ Caleb McConnell, who leads the conference with 2.4 steals per game.

The junior’s skills go beyond his solid defense. Hart had 10 points and five rebounds against Lehigh. He was 2-for-5 from the field and 6-for-6 on free throws.

Hart’s speed and aggression presented a challenge for Brown Dec. 30 as well. He finished the night with 17 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals.

If Ayala and Hart remain consistent, the duo will pose a problem for conference opponents.

2. Fatts Russell dominated against Brown.

Graduate guard Fatts Russell went down with a knee injury in the second half against Lehigh. He did not return and was considered a game-time decision against Brown.

But Russell did not appear injured as he sprinted up and down the court against the Bears. The Rhode Island transfer posted 18 points, five assists and three rebounds in 29 minutes. He was 6-for-9 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.

“My adrenaline was rushing,” Russell said. “Once I started playing, I felt regular. Right now, it’s kind of hurting, and yesterday it was hurting really bad. I felt good waking up this morning, and I felt I could give it a go, so I did.”

Manning applauded Russell.

“Really happy that Fatts was on the court today,” Manning said. “He felt comfortable enough to play, and we’re very happy that he did because … the way he plays, 18 points, five assists, tremendous job of running the team, but also picking his moments to go make something happen.”

3. The Terps’ shooting woes were a recurring theme throughout nonconference play.

The Terps have struggled with shooting throughout the season, and those struggles were evident again against Brown. The Terps shot 37 percent from the field during the first half and made no shots fromm behind the arc.

“We know moving forward we cannot continue to have halves like that, especially when [an opponent] shoots 50 percent,” Manning said. “I like the way we bounced back in the second half.”

Things did seem to change in the second half. Early baskets came from Hart, Russell and Scott. Those three were also responsible for the team’s lone 3-pointers.

The Terps finished the night 49.1 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from deep.

“We just found our chemistry by playing inside-out,” Hart said. “We’ve got a lot of players that play with power finish at the rim with ease. That just makes it easier.”

Maryland needs to find an answer to the shooting problems, especially as it prepares for Big Ten play.

4. The slow starts persist for the Terps.

Slow starts seem to have become routine for Maryland.

Turnovers have plagued the Terrapins throughout the season. Maryland committed 15 turnovers against Lehigh, allowing the Mountain Hawks to capitalize offensively. As a result, Maryland held a tight 37-34 lead at the half.

Two days later, Maryland got into foul trouble early on against Brown, as junior center Qudus Wahab committed two fouls not even three minutes into the matchup.

Both teams continued to struggle with fouls throughout the first half. Brown ended the first half with 15 fouls, while Maryland ended with 12.

Graduate forward Simon Wright ended the first half with three fouls, while freshman center Julian Reese, junior forward Donta Scott and Wahab each had two. Ayala, Russell and graduate guard Xavier Green had one apiece.

The Bears capitalized on 15 of their 22 opportunities at the free-throw line on the night.

The Terps’ early foul trouble allowed the Bears to build a first-half lead. Brown’s Tamenang Choh converted on a second-chance driving layup, forced a foul by Wright and made the free throw to give his team a 35-28 lead.

Maryland’s slow start allowed Choh to dominate. Choh finished with a game-high 25 points and shot 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. However, the Terps contained him in the second half.

“[Hart] slowed down their stud in the second half,” Manning said. “We put him on Choh, and he did a tremendous job of setting the tone and making Choh work a lot harder in the second half.”

The Terps found a rhythm in the second half, as a 13-0 run gave them a 52-45 lead a little more than seven minutes into the half.

“We have to do a better job of coming out and getting started,” Manning said. “… The one thing we’ll continue to harp on with our guys is being disruptive defensively. Not many teams get into their flow. And the last two games, Lehigh and then Brown, those guys got into a flow offensively. And once teams get into a flow and particularly once good players get into a flow, it’s hard to slow them down.”

Maryland needs to find a way to prevent these early mistakes, especially against an Iowa team that has posted 90-plus points its past three games.

“When you have three, four, five new players on the team, including myself, it’s going to be a feel-out period. Everything’s not going to go well because you don’t know each other,” Russell said. “Building that bond and building that chemistry on and off the court, it’s finally starting to click.”

5. The Terps need more production from their bench.

Since Danny Manning assumed the role of interim head coach at the beginning of December, he has mostly rotated graduate guard Xavier Green, sophomore guard Ian Martinez and freshman center Julian Reese into games.

Graduate forward Simon Wright played about nine minutes against Lehigh, finishing the night with four points and going 4-for-4 on free throws.

Sophomore guard Marcus Dockery and sophomore forward Pavlo Dziuba combined for nearly five minutes against Lehigh but did not score any points.

The Brown game was not much different. Only Green, Martinez, Reese and Wright substituted in. However, only Martinez got on the board, and he had just two points.

As such, Maryland had to rely solely on contributions from the starting five. Ayala led the Terps with 22 points; Russell, 18 points; Hart, 17, and Scott, 15. Junior center Qudus Wahab pitched in with 12 rebounds.

“Normally we get a little more bench production from our bench, and today we didn’t have it, but also the guys out on the court had it going,” Manning said “… We’ve just got to find different ways to continue to get contributions across the board, but I think our starting group [did a] really good job.”

As the Terps head into conference play, it will be interesting to see how Manning uses his bench. Contributions from outside the starting five would benefit the Terps significantly.

Regardless, the team feels content with the direction it is trending.

“The sky’s the limit for us. We’re really talented,” Russell said. “Our main thing was just figuring out how we’re going put all this together. And I feel like the last couple of games, we’re trending in the right direction.”

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Emma Shuster

See all posts by Emma Shuster. Follow Emma Shuster on Twitter at @emmashuster1.