COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland closed out the exhibition season with a big win and Jake Layman had a big game.
He was 7-of-8 from the field and had a game-high 18 points, and of course it was his defense that was the talk of the postgame after the Terrapins’ 89-47 dismantling of Division II Bowie State in Maryland’s final exhibition contest.
“The thing we don’t talk about with Jake enough is that he has really become a good defender,” said coach Mark Turgeon. “I think about a year ago right now Jake wasn’t a very good defender and now I’m not afraid to put him on anyone on the court. He has really, really improved, and that has given him confidence, too. Jake isn’t going to be 7-for-8 every game but that’s the Jake we need, more solid, more comfortable, more relaxed, playing within himself.”
Layman spent the offseason working on improving his footwork and foot-speed, and a lot of tedious drills seem to be paying dividends for the 6-8 blonde bomber. “It was understanding what Coach wants with his defensive principles and I think I’ve done a good job with that,” he said. “I think from freshman year to now I understand the game more, and that’s a big part of my defense. And just (having) a bigger determination on defense.”
Layman said the experience, the buy-in of Turgeon’s stringent defensive principles and just some natural talent among the Terps can make that facet of Maryland’s play special this season.
Bowie State, making the Bulldogs’ first trek the 25 miles from Bowie to the Xfinity Center, won’t argue. They may not have had a lid on their basket but they ran into a Terrapin wall around it. The sad result for the visitors was a woeful 22.2 percent shooting for the game, that actually was a lot better than the Bulldogs scratched out in a miserable first half when they hit just 4-of-34 shots (11.8 percent).
Now Turgeon and his Terrapins can turn the focus to the Nov. 14 opener with Wagner. That 7:30 tip is the beginning of a three-game homestand for Maryland that includes Central Connecticut State on Nov. 17, and Fordham on Nov. 20, before Maryland hits the road for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic and an opening round meeting with Arizona State on Nov. 24.
Turgeon, as he said he might with senior forward Evan Smotrycz out with a broken foot, tweaked his lineup Saturday in the matinee before about 3,000 fans. He had started a small first five in the exhibition win over San Francisco State, but went big this time around. With 7-1 Michal Cekovsky getting his first start and Jon Graham alongside, the Terrapins made life tough on the Bulldogs, blocking four shots, altering more and forging a 45-29 rebounding edge.
“They’re a team that shoots quickly and is always ready to attack you when you’re back on your heels,” said Graham of Bowie State, a solid, if overmatched opponent. “I feel like we did a great job of locking in. We contested shots and contained their drives.”
Cekovsky, like all the freshmen –each of whom the Terrapins are counting on this season– looked so much better than a week ago. He had four points and five rebounds but moved well, fought for position more effectively and was a factor anytime a Bulldog strayed into the lane.
“He had a good week of practice,” said Turgeon. “We started a bigger lineup and just wanted to see how it looked. Defensively it was good for us. Ceko is further along defensively. He is still just a little bit late. He altered some shots that he’s probably going to block later in the season, which will help us.”
“It was so much better (this week),” said Cekovsky. “I think I was so much more comfortable because this was my second game. My first game after a long period was last week. I think I (broke) the ice.”
Bowie State could have used an icebreaker. They were ice-cold from the field and after battling on the boards in the opening minutes, the taller Terrapins simply took over, led by Graham’s 11 rebounds to go with eight points and two steals.
Unlike a week ago when Dez Wells and Layman seemed to defer to the younger players for offense, both big guns got off to a good start in the first half, Layman with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and Wells with nine points in the first half on his way to 11 points (4-of-5 shooting) in 17 foul-plagued minutes. While Wells’ foul trouble might be worrisome it doesn’t look debilitating.
“We’ve got a nice, deep team, even without Evan right now,” said Turgeon. “It’s hard for me to get guys (enough) minutes without him.”
Neither team scored until Wells got a layup in transition at 16:58, Cekovsky tracking down an errant rebound, getting a couple of dribbles to start the fastbreak and then feeding Wells for the hoop. Layman followed with a three in transition but Bowie State answered on Andre Jackson’s three, the Bulldogs’ first make after eight misses to open the game. Jackson had nine points but Justin Beck led the ‘Dogs with 10.
In fact, from that point on in the first half, the Terrapins went on a 43-12 spree to end the half, shooting 62 percent (13-of-21) on a lot of transition opportunities. But defense was the order of the day. The Terps held Bowie State to just 1-of-16 from 3-point range and forced nine turnovers.
Maryland led 48-15 at the intermission.
Of Bowie State’s four first half field goals, two came on stickbacks (one of those after Damonte Dodd was out of position from blocking a shot), another was a long three-pointer and the last one was a steal in the backcourt for a contested layup.
The Terrapins’ aggressive play also forced the Bulldogs into 15 first half fouls, resulting in a 17-for-22 Maryland parade to the free throw line. Over one stretch, the Terps canned eight in a row. Graham, a career 51 percent free throw shooter, was 6-of-9 for the game, the Terrapins 28-of-39 (71.8 percent). Freshman point guard Melo Trimble was 6-of-8, part of a solid floor game that included eight points, five assists and two steals.
While Trimble made the most of his debut last week with 19 points against SF State, it was fellow freshmen Dion Wiley (13 points, 3 steals) and Jared Nickens (12 points, 4 rebounds) that upped the ante this time.
“Dez tells me to always be aggressive and I see his aggressiveness in practice and it just makes me want to be more aggressive,” said Nickens. “With my newfound confidence, I just feel like I can do more things.”
Turgeon was effusive in his praise, particularly of Wiley who got his points despite an off (3-of-6, 1-of-4) shooting afternoon. Overall, Maryland shot 57.8 percent as a team.
The Terrapins, during large stretches of this one, did pretty much whatever they wanted. How bad were things for Bowie State? The Bulldogs got their first back-to-back baskets on a couple of threes, the second one at 12:20 of the second half.
To cut the lead to 32 points.
Soon thereafter the Terrapins shifted back into gear, led by Trimble. The freshman went down and raked the ball away from a Bowie big and went coast-to-coast for a tough layup in traffic. Then when Wells got his hand on a pass at midcourt, Trimble scooped up the loose ball and fed Wells for a thunderous dunk to make it 69-32, part of a 12-3 Maryland run after the Bulldogs had thrown themselves the back-to-back-baskets bone.
“I really like (Maryland’s) team,” said Bowie State coach Darrell Brooks. “The good thing for them is that they have young guards, but they are only going to get better and better.”
Brooks thought his team could have shot better early but credited the Maryland defense, which Turgeon said was keyed by Graham’s hustle and work. “I told the team at halftime that if everyone worked as hard as Jon and communicated as well as Jon that everyone would really have a hard time scoring on us,” said the coach. “It’s infectious the way he’s playing. In a quiet building you can hear him talking on defense. He gives us that.”
Dodd, who had seven points, four rebounds and two blocks, followed the senior’s lead. A signature play of the first half was Dodd contesting a defensive rebound in front of the Maryland bench, almost grabbing it twice between a bevy of Bulldogs before drawing a foul to the delight of his teammates who erupted off the bench to celebrate.
At one point early, Maryland had just a 10-9 rebounding edge but went on to grab 15 of the last 21 rebounds in the half. Layman had seven of those rebounds and showed a greater awareness of his role. If he morphs into the all-around player Turgeon has long envisioned, this team has a much higher ceiling.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be a good team, we’ve got a lot of good pieces,” Turgeon summed up. “They’re very coachable. We can score in a variety of ways. Our low post offense is coming. It’s not there yet. And I think defensively we’ve got a chance to be a really good basketball team because guys are buying into it.”
The Terrapins led by 47 points at 4:40 on a Cekovsky dunk to make it 86-39. The only negative Turgeon could find in the postgame was 19 turnovers but he opted not to dwell on that, hoping to “ignore it” and it would get better after a week in which the team ran in practice after turnovers.
Senior transfer Richaud Pack got some minutes at point against a man-to-man defense and had seven points and three rebounds in his 22 minutes.
The Maryland bench cleared in the final three minutes, Varun Ram, who had already seen some action, Jacob Susskind and Spencer Barks, who hit a free throw, all getting to play.
“Today was a good day to see our offense against man-to-man (defense),” admitted Layman. “It was working well, and I think going into next Friday we really know what Coach wants in our offense.”
Layman, Terps Clamp Down, Bash Bowie
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