COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- If observers of the Terrapin basketball situation waiting on Jake Layman to display his full -- repeat full -- repertoire these last three years, well maybe the signature moment came against NC Central Dec. 10.
Down two starters and facing a pesky defensive club, Layman may have had his most complete, and confident to the point of swagger (the latter usually unheard of in the world of the modest Layman), performance in the Terps 67-56 win at XFinity Center.
With Maryland only up just 14-12, the Terps went on a 21-2 spurt thanks in part to two Layman three-point bombs. He would go on to finish 15 points (including a total of three treys), three rebounds and four assists, all on just nine shots, hitting six.
But it wasn't the point total for the budding junior, but how he went about it. Layman, who is the team's third-leading scorer (15.4) and its leading rebounder (5.2) while scoring in double-digits in all 11 games this season, showed his most diverse, confident game since he's been a Terp. He hit pull-up threes, step-back threes, thrived in transition where he finished hard at the basket, while he also dribble-drive-dished on some of those nifty 'dimes' of his. Layman was in complete command, running the floor, finding open teammates, smiling, and most important, stepping up big with Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz down. He looked like the future NBA pro many have been waiting on.
But it hasn't always been that way as Terp followers know, and in fact Layman still defers to others for more obvious leadership. Like telling freshman point guard Melo Trimble at the beginning of the season to go lead the club, Trimble said this week in discussing his junior teammate.
Layman is doing it by example on the floor, demanding the ball in the clutch situations and making baskets across the floor, all when the Terps need it most. In past years, the soft-spoken Massachusetts native would sometimes fade from view in the biggest games or tests, now he's always popping up in those situations.
Off the floor as well the maturation has been compelling, as Layman would speak in brief, staccato sentences during interviews and not always make eye contact. Now he is more engaging, candid and sure of himself as he shakes your hand, looks you in the eye and is on top of his interview game as well. And goodness, how many times has he been asked about his 'confidence' over the years?
"It's very high right now," he said of that surging confidence. "I feel very comfortable within our offense and I trust all the guys I am playing with right now to make shots and to be in the right spots even when I am driving so I can hit them when they are open. So confidence, not only in me, but my team right now."
Confident indeed, as 10-1 and No. 17 ranked Maryland takes in its first true away game this afternoon in the 2 PM tip at Oklahoma State (9-1), at the unfriendly confines of Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Layman has passed most tests so far, but OSU has a Top 20 defense in several categories, and veteran experience led by senior forward Le'Bryan Nash (17.7), senior LSU transfer point guard Anthony Hickey, Jr., (3.6 assists per game) and junior guard Phil Forte (17.1 points per game). Nash and Forte rank first and third, respectively, in the Big 12 in scoring, while OSU is allowing opponents just 35.2 percent field goal percentage shooting a game and just 56.6 points a game. Layman said the Terps have to mindful of their constant switching defenses.
Layman, whose 17 points against SC Upstate marked his 11th straight game this year in double-digit scoring, said as the stakes keep getting higher (and the ranking each week), there can be no falloff starting this weekend taking on the Cowboys before the team breaks for a few days for Christmas. Layman said he will return to Wrentham, Mass., for a couple days before returning for the Terps Christmas night practice.
"It's great," Layman said of Maryland's newfound notoriety. "It makes us not want to lose. We don't want to lose that number next to our name."
Layman will be called on to lead again, to fill the stat sheet with Wells still sidelined at least another game, and Smotrycz still working on his conditioning to get completely back. But Layman has thrived so well in his new stretch-four position this season it may be tough to disrupt the minutes much with the roll he's on. Layman is knocking down shots and stretching defenses with his great mis-matches, which come the Big Ten wars next week, will be needed even more to soften things up for Maryland's still-developing frontcourt.
Each game the Terps have gotten more offense out of freshman center Michal Cekovsky, but there are limitations across the board still for the group of "Ceko," Damonte Dodd and Jon Graham offensively. The Terps have at times looked their best with their 'smaller' lineup with the 6-9 Layman at the stretch-four, breaking down defenses both off-the-bounce and knocking down threes. He's doing it both inside and out, attacking the basket with new vigor, rebounding, and also locking up more at the defensive end, another inconsistent portion of his game in the past. His 15 threes/.385 percent from beyond the arc is second only to Trimble's 16/.400 percent among the starters. And he's getting it all economically, most of his shots within the structure of the offense and few bad ones.
"I think Jake has stepped up when we have needed him with me and Dez going out, and he's been efficient and done what we have needed him to do," Smotrycz said. "He has hit some big shots for us, and it's definitely a good sign when he wants the ball and wants that big shot now."
"I feel like I have always been confident, but it was just a matter of time when I was going to mature, and really kind of having that confidence every single game in myself," Layman said. "So I think I am kinda there now."
Terps senior guard Richaud Pack wasn't here last year, but had heard things coming in. He said every time he looks up, Layman has delivered when the Terps needed a big play or shot.
"Well, what I have heard a lot about since I got here is he's so much more confident, so much more confident," Pack said. "He's more aggressive, confident. But again, I have only seen the confident and aggressive Jake. But I heard that he has come a long way and how comfortable he is now, how aggressive he is now, and how confident he is now."
Freshman point guard Trimble said though Layman has started a few games slow this season, he always finishes strong and comes through in the clutch. Layman had 16 of his 17 points in the second half last game out.
"He's the type player when he gets going we got to get him a lot of shots," Trimble said. "His confidence has gone real high since he has been playing the four, and it's really working for us now."
Layman will have to check Nash today, and he said Terps teammate Robert Carter, Jr., has been giving him a good practice look this week.
"He is strong, athletic, quick," Layman said of the 6-7 Nash. "He overpowers people, so I will have to work on getting tougher for Sunday."
Offensively, Layman said he has been seeing driving lanes "open up for me more," and added that has come with maturity as well.
But Smotrycz said don't expect Layman to change much, on-court success and confidence notwithstanding.
"No, he has always been a chill guy off the floor like me. Very laid back, no changes there," Smotrycz said with a smile.
Layman, Terps Gaining Confidence
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