Seth Allen and Jake Layman idled near midcourt as the sellout crowd filed up the Comcast Center aisles Saturday afternoon, laughing while waiting to conduct a postgame television interview. The freshmen stood tall while fielding questions, hands clasped behind their backs, looking inconspicuous despite having scorched Virginia Tech in the Maryland basketball team’s ACC opener just minutes earlier.
Bigger, more important conference games will arrive in the near future, but the Terrapins passed their first ACC test with flying colors, dominating an overmatched, undermanned Hokies bunch in a 94-71 win behind 41 combined points from Allen and Layman.
With Nick Faust limited to just five minutes because of back spasms, Layman stole the show in the sophomore’s stead. The lanky freshman from Massachusetts had a season-high 20 points despite zero field goals after halftime, sending the packed arena into a frenzy with feathery jumpers and athletic putback dunks.
“I feel like Jake, he has a little bit of knowledge of how great he can be,” said swingman Dez Wells, who finished with an efficient 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting. “This game, I feel like his confidence will be up a lot more. He’ll come into games, ready to shoot, get to the basket, do a lot more. We’ve been telling him all year that he can be so good.”
Even with Wells sidelined by foul trouble and Alex Len consistently double-teamed in the paint, Maryland (13-1, 1-0) had little trouble putting up 53 points by halftime, its most since Coach Mark Turgeon took over in College Park. It felt like a new era for the Terps, a palpable electricity inside Comcast Center backed by a statement win.
Erick Green finished with a game-high 28 points for the Hokies (9-5, 0-1), who shot just 37.3 percent and were limited to six scholarship players after Coach James Johnson benched starting power forward C.J. Barksdale because he was unhappy with the sophomore’s effort in recent games and practices. Consequently, the Terps surged to a 17-10 lead by the first media timeout, buoyed by 13 points from Layman and fellow freshman Charles Mitchell, including six second-chance points off three Pe’Shon Howard missed three-pointers.
Virginia Tech has now lost three straight by 23 or more points for the first time in program history. Maryland, meanwhile, extended its winning streak to 13, longest since the 2001-02 national championship season.
“Tough one tonight,” Johnson said. “Going into ACC play, you’ve got to have more guys playing well, and we just haven’t had that in the past couple games. In ACC play, teams are very familiar with your personnel.”
Except few could have anticipated Layman’s performance. Besieged by waning confidence after a slow start, Layman cleared his head during a trip home over the winter break. Layman and Allen set new season highs in points and minutes, and when they cooled off in the second half, Len took advantage of a sizable mismatch, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s ACC time,” Layman said. “We all have to step up for it, and I think I was ready for it. It was a great game for us.”
Virginia Tech chopped its deficit to 11 points in the second half, but the Terps stretched the lead past the 20-point mark after Allen made a three-pointer, hit two free throws after getting fouled on a breakaway layup and notched another steal-and-score. The win only reinforced Maryland’s immense depth. Faust and James Padgett, the Terps’ third- and fifth-leading scorers, each were scoreless.
But this Maryland squad is so dangerous because players like Layman can come out of the woodwork to shoot 6 of 12 from the field, snag eight rebounds, dish three assists and swat two blocked shots. Over the past six games, five Terrapins have led the team in scoring. Every player in Turgeon’s 10-man rotation except Howard has scored in double figures at least once.
“Good shot selection,” Allen said. “We took a lot of great shots, open shots. We played inside-out. Alex found the open man and we would just knock it down.”
Nearly one hour after the final buzzer, the arena almost empty, Layman and Allen again walked onto the floor together. Though slightly less raucous than the 17,950 fans shrieking at their every move, family and friends enthusiastically applauded behind the scorer’s table upon their arrival. Once more on a lopsided afternoon, the two freshmen received a standing ovation.