College Park, Md. -- It's hard to read much into these preseason basketball exhibitions, particularly one like Maryland's 84-39 win over Division III Catholic Sunday afternoon at Comcast Center.
But mark this down, sophomore Jake Layman is a different player this season, and that's going to be a good thing for the Terrapins, who tip off 2013-14 for real next week Friday against Connecticut at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Layman had a game-high 23 points, hitting five of seven shots from three-point range and 7-of-12 shots overall. A goodly portion of those points seem to come at the most opportune of times in the first half as the Terrapins were trying to figure out the pesky Cardinals, who won 25 games last year and ran away with the Landmark Conference crown on their way to the Division III NCAA Tournament.
"I feel more comfortable, my confidence is really high," said Layman, who averaged 5.5 points last season. "The guys just got me open off screens and I was knocking my shots down. That's all it was."
If that's all it was, it certainly came at the right time. The Terrapins found themselves behind 10-8 with under 14 minutes to play in the first half when Layman came to life to lift the team. Hustling back on defense in transition -- not the part of the game for which the 6-8 sharpshooter is most noted – Layman blocked 6-4 Corey Stanford's driving layup attempt to the delight of the 7,019 on hand in Comcast on a Sunday afternoon.
When the Terps got the ball back, Layman demonstrated the part of the game for which he is noted. He drained a three-pointer from the corner for an 11-10 Maryland lead at 12:55. When Charles Mitchell cleared a defensive rebound, newly-minted starting point guard Dez Wells pushed the ball and Layman ran the floor to get open, hitting another quick three at 12:36.
After an offensive foul, Maryland got the ball back and ran some solid half court offense before Layman drilled another three. He added a runner next time down for a 19-12 lead at 10:42, all thanks to his personal 11-2 run on the Cardinals.
"He's a good player, Jake can shoot it," understated coach Mark Turgeon, beginning his third season at Maryland. "The thing about Jake is he can also drive it, so if they get up on him, he can drive the basketball all the way to the rim or he can pull up. He has the whole game and he has really worked on it, right and left."
"It was big, Jake can really shoot it," echoed Nick Faust, who chipped in 14 points and four rebounds. "We just keep feeding it to him. When he hits two or three in a row, usually he's going to hit a lot more."
The Terrapins did hit a lot more, canning 9-of-19 behind the arc. Faust had three three-pointers and Wells, two. Combined with the edge Maryland had at every position on the floor and off the bench, well, that spelled doom for Catholic.
Mitchell was stellar inside with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but he could have had a lot more points, misfiring from point-blank range several times. Evan Smotrycz didn't join the long-distance barrage, content to bang inside where he had a big edge, and helped Maryland to a dominating 51-22 rebounding advantage.
Smotrcyz had 11 points and seven rebounds and hit 7-of-8 free throws, making things happen inside. He also showed off his versatility with four assists.
The lead and that early Maryland run would balloon in the latter part of the first half as Maryland got more comfortable at both ends. The Terps were aggressive offensively (12 first half free throws, they hit 10) and they did a much better job of identifying Catholic's shooters and closing on them. The Cardinal hit 8-of-24 shots overall and just 3-of-10 behind the arc in the first half.
They finished hitting only 25 percent (14-of-56) overall and 6-20 (30 percent) from three-point range.
"That's one thing we can really do, is defend," said Faust. Turgeon lauded Faust's efforts guarding Steve Limberiou, who averaged 14 points a game last year. Faust held him to five points on 3-of-12 shooting.
It was 24-14 when Faust got in on the three-point act, hitting a three at 8:54. Kevin Phanord answered for CU, but then Roddy Peters scored on a hard drive to the hoop and Mitchell then stuck back a Peters miss. Smotrycz hit two free throws to make it 30-17 at 6:18. The Cardinals would stick at 17 for a while.
They went exactly seven minutes before scoring again after Phanord's three at 7:47, as Maryland turned that run into 20 straight points and a 44-17 lead at 1:03 on Faust's steal and dunk. Catholic finally got another score when Limberiou hit a three 47 seconds before the half to make it 44-19 at the break.
The Terrapins, behind Mitchell's 10 first half rebounds, had a whopping 25-8 edge on the boards. And while that was encouraging, though not unexpected against the smaller Cardinals, the other great statistic may well have been just six Terp turnovers, and three of those came in the first five possessions during a sloppy start that saw Maryland trail three times before Layman laid the wood to the visitors.
The Terps picked up where they left off in the second half, Faust and Wells hitting quick three-pointers, the lead going to 52-22 on Wells' trey. Wells then fed Layman for a dunk in transition and Faust hit another three. Eleven straight points made it 61-22 at 13:41 on Peters' score in transition, part of a 13-0 Maryland edge in fastbreak points.
Maryland shot 52.8 percent (28-53) and were deadly from distance. Statistically, as they should have, they dominated – 34-10, points in the paint; 24-8 points off turnovers; 17-3 second chance points and a 27-9 edge in bench scoring.
"I thought we played well defensively, pretty much the whole game," said Turgeon. "Honestly we were bigger, stronger, faster at every position and it showed. When we were good defensively our athleticism took over."
Maryland's lead would balloon to 48 points in the last minute when walk-on Jacob Susskind scored back-to-back baskets. By that time, all 14 healthy and eligible Terrapins had played. Seth Allen, out with his broken foot and Jonathan Graham, still not cleared by the NCAA for his eligibility waiver, were both on the bench in street clothes.
Minus Allen, Wells got his first real start at point guard and was solid after a slow start. He finished with seven points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and just two turnovers in 24 minutes. Turgeon sat him for 10 minutes of the first half after he picked up his second foul, and freshman Peters played well in spurts.
"It's a challenge but that's basketball," said Wells of his new role. "Basketball is about challenges and being competitive, and competing against the best. At this position I will be able to compete against some of the best and see how I match up. I have some advantages over them and they have some advantages over me so it should be a really good test."
When pressed – by reporters, not the Cardinals – Wells said his advantage was he couldn't imagine any point guards as big (6-5) and fast as he has in combination. Peters, who is also a work in progress, has a similar combination of skills.
"I thought Roddy was pretty good," said Turgeon. "Where I was really proud of Roddy was on the defensive end because that's where he doesn't really like to play a lot, and he really concentrated and took on a challenge. He had a phenomenal week of practice and it showed."
Peters finished with seven points, two assists and two turnovers. Both his baskets were on athletic drives.
Maryland's other freshman, Damonte Dodd, also played well with four points on 2-of-2 shooting to go with eight rebounds and two blocked shots in 11 minutes. "He brings energy," said Turgeon. "I can't tell you how much he has improved since our first practice this summer. He's a great kid. He has no ego, which is a fun kind of kid to coach. He still forgets some things when he's out there but he's so much further along than he was a month ago."
Turegon loves the way the angular Dodd defends the paint and blocks shots, and that's something everyone thought Maryland might not have this year with Alex Len collecting NBA paychecks. Dodd can fill a role rebounding and defending, and he showed he can do a little offensively, too.
Turgeon said Dodd was the eighth man in a rotation of that number sans Allen. Junior Varun Ram, who hit a jumper, is No. 9 right now.
Turegon said he might use Wells and Peters together more often but Wells' early fouls curtailed that idea. He also expressed confidence in Wells at point. "Dez will get there. He'll just keep getting better and better, and we will figure out how to make it easier for him."
Faust, showing off a sleekier, more mature game, was already a big help, said the coach, singling him out as something he really liked in the exhibition. "The thing I liked about today was our guys really cheered for each other," said Turgeon. "Guys were accepting roles. Nick was a whole different kid. He shot open shots. He passed the ball to open guys and he just guarded his tail off. That's a sign of maturity with our team."
Layman showed some of that maturity, too. The Terrapins are such a threat with him in transition, a player that can shoot the three on the run or end up with a dunk. "It's always tough in the first game to get the flow and get settled down," said Layman. "We had the same problems last year against IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania in an exhibition)."
Layman said the loss of Allen meant they were down one shooter and that all the Terps had to pitch in with ballhandling and perimeter offense. "We have guys that are stepping up so I think we'll be okay," he said.
Limberiou finished as Catholic's leading scorer with those seven points but the Phanord brothers, Kyle and Kevin, both 5-11 guards each had six and each had two steals, causing Maryland's bigger ballhandlers a little trouble on occasion. The Cardinals played man-to-man and then switched to a zone early trying to limit the Terps before Layman got hot and made it a moot point.
Shaquille Cleare, who started at center, had two points, four rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes, helping establish control of the paint early.
"They are good, smart players," said Turgeon of his team. "I'm just really pleased with the improvement across the board with our players from last year. We are just so much more mature."
Following the opener at Barclays Center, the Terrapins return home to face Abilene Christian in the home opener, Wednesday, Nov. 7.
Layman, Terps Shoot Down Catholic
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