As older teammates like Dez Wells and Nick Faust have clutched the spotlight this postseason, Jake Layman has mostly flown under the radar. He had started four straight games, but ever since Feb. 23 only scored in double digits once, never playing more than 29 minutes in that span.
Yet every so often, the freshman swingman does something so eye-popping and athletic, you wonder why that doesn’t occur as often as cracks about his hair. So it only felt a matter of time before Layman had his moment.
With Maryland up two points on Alabama on Tuesday night after a Levi Randolph dunk, the energy palpable inside Coleman Coliseum, Layman drifted toward the top of the key and received a pass from Wells, who was posting up on the right block in isolation. With the defense drawn toward Maryland’s leading scorer, Layman shot in rhythm, swishing the three-pointer. Backpedaling on defense, Layman held his pose, Monica Wright-style.
After Randolph bricked a jumper on the other end, Layman again stepped into a three-pointer atop the key, and again backpedaled with style. Thanks to Layman, the Terps’ lead jumped to 57-49, providing enough cushion to withstand a rocky landing in a 58-57 win.
Sitting in the locker room with injured teammate Seth Allen yammering in his ear, Layman shrugged off the moment in typical Layman fashion. This is the same quiet kid who, upon seeing just three reporters approach him for interviews, offered a little fist pump.
“It gave us a boost,” Layman said. “Six quick points, helps a lot whenever. It was good to have.”
Layman finished with 13 points off the bench, his highest dropping 14 at Virginia Tech, in 33 minutes, a new career high. Those two three-pointers were his only makes from beyond the arc, but they came at a time most crucial.
“It’s nice to have shooters,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We recruited Jake as a shooter. We expect Jake to make shots. We get mad at him when he doesn’t shoot.”
That eye-popping and athletic moment still came, too. Maryland’s coaches love sticking Layman atop their diamond full-court press, hoping his length can deflect passes and frustrate opposing ballhandlers. Against Alabama, the freshman had his most productive defensive game too, forcing two early turnovers. The second he turned into a posterizing one-handed slam on the opposite end.
“They attacked our press pretty well,” Turgeon said. “First half it was good to us, second half at times it was good to us. But Jake’s tough out there. Six feet eight and long, quick feet, quick hands. Our press is a lot better when he’s at the top.”
Until he turns those rare highlight moments into regular occurrences, Layman’s value lies right here – with pressure defense and three-point shooting. Turgeon has ridden Layman all season for his defensive performance, and to his credit it’s improved immensely since November.
“I try to be long and get steals and deflections whenever I can,” Layman said. “It’s working out well for us now.”