After he saved the Maryland men’s basketball team from an epic letdown, Jake Layman made a circle with his thumb and index finger, pointing his other three digits toward the rafters. He kept his arm raised as he backpedaled onto defense, letting the sparse Comcast Center crowd know everything would be just fine.
“I threw the threes up tonight, so yeah,” Layman said.
In a 66-62 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday afternoon, the Terrapins needed every one of Layman’s game-high 22 points. They had blown double-digit leads in both halves, but not until the sophomore forward made a deep three-pointer from the left corner could everyone breathe easy.
The players knew this feeling well. In November, they trailed Abilene Christian, a team transitioning to Division I, by one point at halftime. A loss to Oregon State four days later unfolded in similarly slow fashion.
So after an emotional road win over Boston College on Thursday, Coach Mark Turgeon knew fatigue would be a factor. The Terps (7-4) had slept in Friday morning and only had a light walkthrough ahead of Saturday’s game, but Turgeon still found himself giving his players a long halftime lecture, talking about ball movement against the zone and interior rebounding against the smaller Owls (3-8).
“We were pretty selfish in that first half against the zone, but second half I thought we moved the ball that much better, especially when we had to,” Turgeon said. “It’s nice to get layups. It’s nice to get layups instead of a guarded three. We talked about it. We talked about it every timeout, too, but it just helped at halftime. You had a little more time to get your point across.”
In the third-year coach’s eyes, the game shouldn’t have been close. Owls leading scorer Pablo Bertone was held mostly in check during the first half, closely shadowed as he sprinted along the baseline and tried to free himself up on back screens. Up 13 points after newly anointed starting point guard Roddy Peters picked Bertone’s pocket and converted the turnover into a layup, Maryland appeared headed for a cushy victory.
Then the Terps went cold against the Florida Atlantic zone. By halftime, they had made just 4 of 14 three-pointers, and the lead had been whittled to two points. Dez Wells, Layman and Evan Smotrycz, all averaging double figures this season, were shooting a combined 27.3 percent.
“We really stooped down to their level tonight,” center Shaquille Cleare said.
The second half unfolded similarly. The hosts sprinted to a double-digit lead before the Owls chipped their way back. Cleare, Wells and forward Charles Mitchell finished with 10 points apiece thanks to a refocused emphasis on high-percentage buckets, but Florida Atlantic suddenly couldn’t miss from deep. When Layman committed a turnover and Bertone converted it into a three-point play, the Terps were only up 62-59.
“Our bench at the guard position wasn’t as deep as we needed it to be, and our guys had to play a lot of minutes,” Turgeon said. “It showed today. In the end, it’s a good win. We had to execute down the stretch. We really executed and made some nice plays as a group down the stretch.”
No play exemplified that more than Layman’s swished jumper, which came deep in the shot clock. Turgeon wanted to bleed time, but that had been a concept antithetical to the quick-release thinking of his guards.
“Sometimes we shoot too fast,” Layman said. “Coach talked to us and said it may take 30 seconds to get the best shot we have.”
So with 37 seconds remaining in the game and one second left in the possession, Layman caught a pass from Nick Faust as Florida Atlantic scrambled to recover. They had been selfish all afternoon against the Owls’ zone, but with the game on the line, the Terps found a way to share.
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Terrapins Insider: Cleare takes small step forward against Florida Atlantic