Inside the Maryland men’s basketball locker room on Tuesday evening, Coach Mark Turgeon gave one of those speeches that belong on posters, or in YouTube compilations of motivational moments.
“The only one to give you guys confidence,” he would later recall saying, “is yourselves.”
Various Terrapins have struggled with confidence issues throughout this roller-coaster season, but Turgeon invoked this story when discussing his most efficient yet most underused starter: Jake Layman. The sophomore forward’s production has been erratic this season, particularly against stronger ACC defenses bent on suffocating every touch he receives along the perimeter. According to the offensive rating metric used by analyst Ken Pomeroy, Layman has topped 1.20 points per possession in 11 games this season. Only one has come in the 2014 calendar year.
On Sunday, Layman attempted 14 field goals against Clemson but made only one, so Turgeon benched him for just the second time all season on Tuesday against Virginia Tech. He swapped in Evan Smotrycz, who had broken free from a mini-slump versus the Tigers, and hoped the change of scenery would do Layman well.
“He told me before the game,” Layman said. “It wasn’t a big deal … It was just one of those days. I was rushing my shot a little bit. They just weren’t falling down for me.”
In terms of boosting his confidence, what followed certainly was. Missing four scholarship players because of injuries – Adam Smith, Ben Emelogu and Cadarian Raines didn’t travel, while C.J. Barksdale hurt himself after three minutes – Virginia Tech didn’t have the personnel to shadow Layman on every possession, but its zone defense had caused problems for opposing sharpshooters like N.C. State’s Ralston Turner (1 for 7 on three-pointers), Virginia’s Joe Harris (2 for 6) and UNC’s Marcus Paige (1 for 4).
Layman waited until after intermission — when the Terps were behind one point and suddenly were without leading rebounder Charles Mitchell, who had been banished to the locker room — to get going, but then again so did his team. After halftime, he made four three-pointers during a key stretch that helped Maryland pull away from the Hokies. He finished with a modest 13 points, far short of his ACC high of 18, but those four three-pointers were as many as he had made over the previous three games combined.
“Coach told me, ‘You’re a great player,’ ” Layman said. “ ‘Keep shooting the ball. We all believe in you.’ I knew I was going to keep shooting.”
This steadfastness has been Layman’s greatest growth this season. He leads Maryland in offensive rating (111.2) and three-point shooting (37.8 percent) despite having the seventh-highest usage rate. Granted, his offensive creativity is still relatively one-dimensional, limited to deep shots, which could account for his low usage rate and incredibly low assist rate (6.4 percent, nearly one-fourth of point guard Seth Allen).
But that those prolonged slumps haven’t threatened his confidence, or at least shaken it enough to torpedo his season, speaks volumes about Layman’s mental growth. Maryland trots him out at most media availabilities and he now talks with confidence, unafraid to call out the team for its struggles or, like he said after the Virginia Tech game, being “lackadaisical and not really trying hard.”
The challenge for Layman now becomes consistency as the postseason looms. A four-game stretch of 1.00-plus PPP games turned into his worst two-game slide of the season, when he shot 2 for 20 against Syracuse and Clemson combined. A graph of his game-by-game offensive rating reflects this too: