COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State’s defensive game plan was simple on Wednesday night, and the fifth-ranked Buckeyes executed it flawlessly: Take away Maryland forward Jake Layman’s breathing room, giving him no opportunities to spark the Terrapins.
From the opening tip, Lenzelle Smith Jr. hounded Layman, Maryland’s leading scorer. He tagged Layman’s hip on screens, curling around them and jabbing a hand into the sophomore’s face whenever a pass got through. Every shot was contested, every drive met with at least one help-side defender. The result? Layman scored two points, a season low and 14 points less than his average. One of the ACC’s best long-range threats also went 0 for 2 on three-pointers.
“They did a great job on Jake,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “They were aware of Jake. Couldn’t get going.”
Layman has been a catalyst for Maryland this season, particularly when the rest of his teammates are slumping. Six days before the Ohio State game, he made seven three-pointers and scored 27 points at home against Morgan State. But Ohio State’s opponents are shooting just 22.4 percent from three-point range this season — the fourth-lowest percentage in the nation — and it’s not just because of back-court pests Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. Smith was stellar in defending Layman, and Layman’s shots weren’t falling, either (he was 1 of 9 overall).
Asked why Layman struggled to score, Dez Wells gave the most fundamental answer possible.
“The ball didn’t go in the basket,” he said.
But could Maryland simply chalk it up to a bad night and move on?
“A lot of stuff went in for them, a lot of stuff didn’t go in for us,” he said. “That’s basketball. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t our night. We still could have executed and defended a lot better.”
>> Turgeon opened the second half by starting both Charles Mitchell and Varun Ram, keeping Nick Faust and Evan Smotrycz on the bench. At the time, Smotrycz was leading Maryland in scoring against his old Big Ten nemesis. Faust, however, was erratic, and made just 1 of 7 three-pointers in 24 minutes, a season low.
Ram committed two turnovers, but was the only Maryland regular who finished with a positive plus-minus rating (plus six), according to data from SCACC Hoops. He outplayed freshman Roddy Peters, who received one more minute of playing time but produced three more turnovers.
“He has to be thrown into the fire,” Wells said of Peters. “How else is he going to learn? Every freshman goes through these times. That’s how you get better. You just can’t get down on yourself and we’re all going to be there for him. He’s going to be a great player. He just has to take it one play at a time and stay committed to being great, just like everybody is.”
With Seth Allen’s return from a broken foot slated for early next month and with several tough games remaining until then – George Washington on Sunday, at Boston College in the ACC opener after that – perhaps Wells was onto something when he talked about throwing Peters into the fire. Ram, in a way, has become Turgeon’s statement substitution, inserted whenever the coach feels Maryland needs more intensity, but Peters clearly has a bright future in College Park.
When Wells was asked about his scoring discrepancy spanning halftime – two points before it, 17 points after – his answer revealed plenty about where he feels more comfortable playing. In conjunction with his thoughts about Peters, it may give Turgeon something different to think about moving forward, something many fans have clamored for since Allen went down during the preseason.
“I was off the ball,” Wells said. “That was the difference. I’ve got to be able to produce at any position Coach Turgeon has me in. That’s no excuse. It is what it is.”
>> With Layman laboring, Mitchell tried to become Maryland’s catalyst, particularly on the offensive glass, where he now ranks eighth nationally in rebounding percentage. The sophomore cleaned up misses with close-range tips, finishing with a career-best nine offensive rebounds – his previous high was seven against Delaware State last season – and his second double-double of the year (12 points, 11 rebounds).
He and Shaq Cleare (two points, 16 minutes) both got into early foul trouble, which meant early playing time for Damonte Dodd. The freshman missed both field goal attempts and both free throws he took, but grabbed five rebounds in eight minutes. Jon Graham, who transferred this offseason from Penn State and had faced the Buckeyes twice in his college career, saw four garbage-time minutes.
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