Terps’ Jake Layman hopes to break slump by increasing aggressiveness


(AP Photo/The News & Observer, Ethan Hyman)

His coach had spent the better part of January telling the Maryland men’s basketball players to be less selfish, so imagine Jake Layman’s surprise when Mark Turgeon told him the exact opposite.

“You’ve got to be more selfish on offense,” Turgeon said, in front of the entire team, because even though the sophomore forward possesses by far the best offensive rating among the Terrapins, his usage percentage ranks seventh. Evenings for Layman this season have been spent alternating between shooting three-pointers, standing around waiting to shoot three-pointers and, in the rarest of circumstances, creating his own shot.

Turgeon wanted the third option to come first. On the opening possession Saturday night against Pittsburgh, Layman curled off a screen and, rather than abandoning the cut and popping back to the three-point line, continued his motion across the line, creating more distance from his defender with those gazelle strides. Eventually, he had enough space to catch the pass, square and swish the jumper with no resistance.

“We just want him to be aggressive,” Turgeon said. “He came out, the first time he got a look he shot it and he was much more aggressive going to the basket. He’s getting to the foul line more. It’s all part of his maturation.”

Since ACC play began, Layman’s scoring rate has plummeted. He scored six points on five shots against Georgia Tech, three points on seven shots against Pittsburgh, rebounded modestly with 11 points vs. Florida State then labored again against Notre Dame (eight points) and North Carolina State (five points).

The hot streak established in November, when Layman reached double figures in five straight games to open the season, had spectacularly evaporated, replaced by questions about whether he was slumping, whether the Terps were improperly using him or whether it was something in between.

And so Turgeon felt compelled to go against every instinct he had developed over decades of coaching and, for once, told a player to hog the basketball more. Hearing this was, in a word, unusual.

“It was strange,” Layman said. “I guess it’s a good thing and a bad thing. One, it means I’m not being aggressive enough. Two, it means I got to look for my shots and take them when I’m open and not go crazy.”

Maybe Layman did a double take at the edict, but his teammates thought it was a long time coming. Against the Panthers, he posted his best game in one month, scoring 18 points on 12 shots.

“Jake’s a really good shooter and he passes up a lot of opportunities,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “I think he’s really good when he’s driving to the hoop and he can put pressure on the defense. I think that’ll be big tomorrow, don’t get lulled into shooting too many threes and mix it up a bit.”

Turgeon schemes more sets for Layman than most Terps, but their larger offensive problems have devolved the offense into a festival of one-on-one dribble-drives. Layman, on the other hand, needs constant motion to free himself for shots, particularly when teams face-guard him.

He won’t encounter that problem Wednesday against Miami, because the Hurricanes play a matchup zone that slows down opposing offenses and forces three-pointers. The Terps will likely try to overload one side, much like Duke did last week, which could create open looks for Layman, who has made just 3 of 17 three-pointers over the past five games.

Then it’s up to him to get hot.

“That’s just another weapon on offense,” Smotrycz said. “When he’s hitting, it makes us all better. Hopefully we can get everyone involved early and put pressure on Miami tomorrow.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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