“He’s going to make top 10 with that one,” forward Jon Graham said.
“It looks even cooler from the other side,” said Will Turgeon, Coach Mark Turgeon’s oldest son.
No matter the angle, no matter the number of views, the Maryland men’s basketball team couldn’t stop looking at forward Jake Layman’s furious dunk over Virginia Tech forward Trevor Thompson. An 80-60 victory Saturday afternoon was filled with similar much-needed moments for the Terrapins, who coasted to an easy victory over the ACC’s last-place team.
“This is the closest game we’ve played to a full 40 minutes,” guard Dez Wells said.
With a tough four-game stretch ahead, including road games at North Carolina, Virginia and Duke, the Terps needed this rout. They had lost four of five before Wells beat Miami on a three-pointer with 5.9 seconds left Wednesday night, and their psyche, already fragile given how January had unfolded, could ill-afford another heart-thumper.
Any drama disappeared after halftime. At that juncture, though, the game had seemed eerily similar to Maryland’s collapse at North Carolina State nearly two weeks ago. In both games, the hosts were missing roughly 20 points per game to injury – T.J. Warren for the Wolfpack, Adam Smith and C.J. Barksdale for the Hokies — and a late Layman three-pointer sent the Terps into intermission up by a comfortable margin.
But unlike that game, when Maryland lost an 11-point lead and suffered another demoralizing loss, the Terrapins finally figured out how to bury someone after going up 43-35 by the break. As Virginia Tech endured a scoreless stretch of nearly seven minutes, the Terps took turns dealing knockout blows. Layman, who had 10 points, hit a three-pointer. Wells, who finished with a team-high 19 points despite coming off the bench after arriving late to a team breakfast, converted a steal into a dunk.
By the end, four players had reached double figures in scoring, no one logged more than 30 minutes and the scout team finished in garbage time while the starters smiled and joked around on the bench.
“Well,” Mark Turgeon said later, “I’m much more confident than I was when I walked out of the North Carolina State game.”
And why not? Point guard Seth Allen (16 points, seven assists, five rebounds) had his most complete game since returning from a broken foot. After halftime, the Terps had just two turnovers and shot 51.8 percent, whereas Virginia Tech (8-13, 1-8 ACC), with newly minted athletic director Whit Babcock in attendance to get his first look at a team that has now lost eight straight, got just two points from leading scorer Jarell Eddie and only guard Ben Emelogu (21 points) reached double figures.
“I just feel good because I just want our team to look like they like to play together, like they like to play the game and like they’re coached,” Mark Turgeon said. “That’s important to me. I think we’re starting to play that way.
“Sometimes you just have to turn into a real jerk. And it’s no fun.”
Everything else Saturday was. There will be time for the Terrapins (13-9, 5-4) to prepare for Tuesday’s date with the Tar Heels, the next ladder rung on this long climb back to pertinence. But after Layman’s dunk, the postgame conversation quickly veered to the game’s next most impressive play, when forward Charles Mitchell stole a pass in the second half and streaked into the open court. All 260 pounds rumbled toward the rim, like a defensive lineman returning a fumble for a touchdown, until he finished with a dunk over Eddie.
By that stage, Maryland was up 23 points and the game was beyond over. Not that it mattered. The Terps needed this victory, in this fashion, and were content relishing in the highlight-worthy moments along the way.
“The fat-guy breakaway was a little funny to watch,” Layman said. “He was pumped. He can’t stop talking about it.”