It wasn't that easy, though. Through the first six games, he attempted only 48 shots. In his mind, he was still a point guard and the idea of shooting instead of passing was still new to him.
Tonight, all that apprehension seemed to disappear. On a night when Greivis Vasquez and James Gist, the team's two leading scorers, shot just 7-of-25, it was Hayes who picked up the slack. He scored a career-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and led Maryland to a 69-61 win over Illinois.
"It's definitely going to take a while to get that [shooter's] mentality, but it's in progress," said Hayes, who led the Terps (5-2) in scoring for the first time in his career. "It showed a little tonight, I'm taking more shots."
Hayes hit his first two 3-point attempts, igniting the late-arriving crowd at the Comcast Center. The 3-point shot had been a lost art for the Terps so far this season—they've shot a paltry 27.4 percent from behind the arc before tonight. And it didn't help that Hayes, who teammates tab as the best shooter, was hesitant to shoot.
"Sometimes we get upset because he doesn't shoot and we just tell him to shoot," said Vasquez, who said he encourages Hayes to be more aggressive.
"‘You shoot,'" he told him, "‘you're the best shooter we got. Just be like Mike Jones. You got to shoot it.' It got him a lot better by shooting the ball. We all know he's a good point guard but he's got to shoot."
Gist, who scored 12 points while battling foul trouble tonight, also prodded Hayes to shoot more in the off season.
"It was a job of mine to try to get Eric to shoot," he said. "Over the summer I just told Eric every pickup, ‘Eric, you like the next Mike Jones, man, you got to shoot the ball. I know you used to be a point guard but you've got the best shot on the team.' He's starting to fill into that role now, he's starting to get more comfortable just shooting the ball more."
Hayes got several open opportunities tonight, a product of better ball movement and offensive execution, Maryland coach Gary Williams said. Maryland had 20 assists to just 12 turnovers, its highest ratio of the year. Despite shooting just 2-of-14 from the field, Vasquez led the Terps with 10 assists.
With six freshmen, three of which have seen significant time so far, Williams knew it was going to take some time to get into a rhythm. Some of the early season offensive struggles have been because the players don't quite have a feel for each other yet. It's something, he believes, that will come in time.
"It's ball movement—getting the ball to [Hayes] when he's open," Williams said. "That's a timing thing and that's what I was talking about before. That's not going to be there this year Nov. 15, that's going to come along as we play together, get used to each other."
Of course, merely taking 3-pointers isn't good enough. Illinois (4-2) took 29 and made just nine, one of its downfalls in the game. Maryland took 19 3-pointers, a number Williams was first surprised by, then said was just about right.
"The right guys have to shoot it," Williams said. "You can't be taking bad threes because bad threes are long rebounds and the other team usually scores if you miss."
There's another element to the 3-point shot besides it being worth three points: It's exciting. Williams pointed to a lack of energy as a concern in some of Maryland's earlier games, partly a product of a lack of consistent scoring outbursts.
Fittingly, it was Cliff Tucker's 3-pointer midway through the second half that elicited one of the bigger roars from the crowd. That put the Terps up 47-44, a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"As long as we hit threes when we need to hit it we're going to win games cause that really gets you pumped up and excited and gets you confidence and you just want to kill the other team," Vasquez said.
For Hayes, the confidence to know he can, in fact, take shots and make them could finally be what Maryland needs to take the next step.
"Tonight was a big game for us," Hayes said, "and I wanted to step up and play well tonight and just being aggressive and wait for my shot."
Hayes Shoots Maryland Past Illinois
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