Ninety seconds into the second half on Thursday night, Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson called a hasty timeout. By that point, his Hokies had seen a three-point halftime lead evaporate, zapped by a blond-haired blur at Cassell Coliseum. In the huddle, Johnson likely reminded his players that, yes, Maryland freshman Jake Layman still needed to be guarded.
After a sluggish first semester in College Park, Layman burst onto the scene in Maryland’s first game against the Hokies on Jan. 5, backing up Coach Mark Turgeon’s bold move to give the wiry wingman his second career start. Layman lit up the Comcast Center for 18 first-half points, ultimately finishing with a career-high 20 in a 94-71 blowout. He eventually worked his way back into Turgeon’s lineup and has started the past five games, providing an early spark with his feathery jumper.
Layman did it again Thursday night. He scored eight points early in the first half, draining two three-pointers and slamming home a baseline dunk, then dropped another five in the second half before Johnson called the timeout. He wound up finishing with a team-high 14 points and five rebounds, succumbing to a cold stretch in the first half before regaining his stroke.
“It’s just really me growing as a player,” Layman said. “Every game I’m getting better and better and getting more comfortable.”
>> Based on Dez Wells’s postgame comments, it seemed that Turgeon’s little halftime speech was directed at the sophomore.
“Coach came in the locker room, told me to stop pouting, just play like a man,” Wells said. “I guess I played with more energy in the second half to help my team out.”
Wells finished with a typically well-rounded line of eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and four turnovers. He also hit multiple three-pointers for the first time all season, but still committed the mistakes that have dampened an otherwise tremendous individual season. With Maryland up 58-53 in the final minute, for instance, Wells grabbed a rebound and dribbled to his left before attempting a skip pass to James Padgett, rather than let Virginia Tech foul him. Erick Green sniped the pass and got fouled in the process.
“I was letting things get to me, like turnovers and stuff like that,” Wells said. “I don’t know. Turnovers, the fact that we weren’t getting into our offense like we should be. Just unforced errors. It’s not fair, but that’s life. … I have no reason to be pouting right now. Just have to take this as a stepping stone and move forward.”
>> The Terps had some mixed reactions to Green, the nation’s leading scorer who finished with 29 points but took 23 shots and made just 2 of 7 from beyond the arc.
“[Green] can make any shot he takes,” Turgeon said afterward.
“He’s going to get his points, regardless of how you try to stop him,” Padgett said.
“I’ve guarded better players than him,” Wells said.
True to its intended game plan, Maryland rotated a host of defenders on Green. Pe’Shon Howard, Seth Allen and Nick Faust all took turns, but Wells guarded Green in crunch time, blanketing him as the Terps clung to a narrow lead.
“Dez took it on as a challenge, did a nice job,” Turgeon said. “I thought the last minute, our defense was outstanding. “
>> Pe’Shon Howard, who’s endured his fair share of struggles this season, strung together one of his best stretches in recent memory midway through the second half.
First, he scooped an acrobatic up-and-under layup in traffic, then dished in transition to Logan Aronhalt for an easy bucket. After the under-12 officials’ timeout, Howard split a double team near midcourt, drew the defense in the paint and fired a no-look pass to Alex Len for a dunk.
That brief stretch displayed the confidence that seemed to have disappeared since ACC play began. Howard only played 10 minutes against Virginia Tech, but had zero turnovers for the first time since the North Carolina State game and only the third time this season.
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