Nickens Dialed In From Deep

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Terps freshman Jared Nickens had 12 points and connected on 4-of-7 3-pointers Jan. 14 against Rutgers, helping Maryland to a 73-65 victory.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – He didn’t hesitate.

He never hesitates.

With Maryland clinging to a 64-63 late lead against Rutgers Jan. 14 at the Xfinity Center, Terps freshman Jared Nickens calmly rose up from the elbow and drained a 3-pointer right in front of an antsy Scarlet Knights defender. The crowd-erupting triple with 2:24 remaining was Nickens’ fourth bomb of the night, and the most significant bucket of his 18-game college career.

“I would say so,” Nickens said when asked if the latter trey, which spurred Maryland to a 73-65 victory, was his biggest shot as a Terp. “We needed to extend the lead and break it open a little bit, because it was close the whole game. And at that point, we really wanted to secure the win.

“But, at this point, [shooting 3s] is second nature. I don’t think about it at all. If I’m open, I just let it go.”

Ah, the Shooters' Creed:

Shooters Gotta Shoot -- Anonymous

It’s the law deadeye marksmen from Ray Allen to Reggie Miller to Larry Byrd to the mixtape wonders to the street-ball specialists have been abiding by since James Naismith first invented the game.

Nickens, who came to Maryland with such a reputation, is no different.

“We know Jared can shoot 3s, and he has a lot of confidence in shooting them, and so do we,” said freshman point guard Melo Trimble, who, along with classmate Dion Wiley, has formed a close bond with Nickens, so much so that the trio all have tattoos with letters ‘M.B.K.’ on their arms (My Brother’s Keeper). “When he misses one we’re surprised, but we know he’s going to take the next one and make it. He just keeps shooting…”

“We know if [Nickens is] open,” added Terps forward Jake Layman, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds Jan. 14, “it’s going up. We believe in him, and the coaching staff believes in him too.”

Indeed.

Head coach Mark Turgeon has never wavered in his confidence in the first-year sharpshooter, even when Nickens draws iron (or air) on 70 percent of his attempts (see: 1-of-4 against Purdue, 0-of-2 against Michigan State, 1-of-3 against Minnesota). Sure, Nickens has been yanked from games before, but it’s usually due to a subpar defensive or rebounding effort, two areas the New Jersey native has improved in as the season has moved along. Turgeon has said several times that if Nickens defends, he’ll see his share of floor time, regardless of whether or not his 3-ball is falling.

Nickens did have a couple defensive lapses against Rutgers Jan. 14, but, ultimately, he helped keep Scarlet Knights guard Bishop Daniels to just one 3-pointer. He recorded a block as well, which led to a Jake Layman jumper in transition, although the junior failed to convert.

Even better for the Terps, the Monmouth Junction product was feeling it from deep.

Not even the situation (close and late), or an active RU defense, could faze him.

“Jared can do that,” Turgeon said of Nickens’ ability to knock down clutch 3s. “The best thing about it [the final shot] is he didn’t hesitate…. It’s good. We needed it. I think we’re a better team when him and Dion [Wiley] play well. Dion didn’t have his stuff tonight … but it’s good to see Jared step up. “

Nickens has been stepping up quite a bit of late, albeit not nearly as much as during the RU game. He started his fourth game this season Jan. 10 at Purdue (his first at shooting guard in place of senior Richaud Pack), and while he only connected on 25 percent of his attempts, Nickens’ lone 3 gave the Terps some much-needed momentum in a 69-60 victory. The game before, during the loss at Illinois, Nickens connected on 2-of-5 treys, the second of which brought the Terps to within striking distance (54-46) late in the latter half.

On top of that, Nickens has seen his minutes steadily increase, from a season-low seven against Minnesota Jan. 3 to playing no less than 15 during each of the next three matchups. Nickens was on the floor for 21 minutes against RU, his most in Big Ten play.

“Coach Turgeon just told me to stay focused, keep working hard in practice, and my opportunity will come,” said Nickens, who is averaging 6.2 points per game, while shooting 38 percent from the field (35-of-91) and 37 percent from 3-point range (26-of-71) this year. “Depending on how the game is, we’re going to need different lineups, so I don’t cry about it [not getting minutes] or anything – I just keep working hard.”

The hard work is paying off, while this particular Jan. 14 matchup brought out the best in Nickens. Monmouth Junction is about 20 minutes from Piscataway, N.J., and Nickens attended numerous Rutgers home games his first two years of high school at Westtown (Pa.). The Scarlet Knights recruited Nickens, but the talented wing opted for Maryland because of his relationship with Turgeon and his comfort level in College Park.

Given his familiarity with RU, Nickens admitted the Jan. 14 affair held a “little bit” more weight for him. He said he wanted to show out with all his Jersey friends and family intently tuned in.

Moreover, Nickens said he knows one current Scarlet Knight, freshman guard Mike Williams, who attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High in Brooklyn, N.Y. The two apparently competed against one another during their prep and AAU days.

“[Williams and I] spoke after the game, and I just said, ‘Good game,’ and I probably will text message him on the bus,” Nickens said. “But most people that were talking to me [before the Jan. 14 game] are from Jersey, and they wished me luck. It was fun playing against Rutgers, and I know it will be fun again when we play them March 3. But they’re a good team, and I tip my hat to them.”

The Scarlet Knights will undoubtedly be tipping their collective hats to Nickens as well.

Nickens, who has been known to hoist up hundreds of shots each day, started the RU game inauspiciously, misfiring on two straight attempts within a minute’s span. Naturally, Nickens immediately forgot about both clunkers and drained his first 3 right in front of the Rutgers bench with 3:38 left in the first half. A minute-and-a-half later, he took a pass from Trimble and buried a second triple in the exact same spot.

But it was his second-half work that resonated – with Turgeon, the Terps and the 12,419 in attendance.

With Rutgers ahead 59-55 with just six minutes remaining, senior Dez Wells moved the ball around to Nickens, who drilled his third trey and promptly cut UMD’s deficit to one. Nickens missed his next attempt, but he drained his final shot of the night after Wells hit him with another pass, pushing the Terps’ advantage to 67-63.

The freshman’s last 3 sent the crowd into bedlam, and RU never got closer than four points the rest of the way.

“[Wells] just always tells me to stay ready,” Nickens said. “Before I got in the game, actually Damonte [Dodd] told me it was time to make some 3s in the second half. He always tells me that, so it’s always in my mind. It happened today.”

The Terps, who shot just 34 percent for the night, had converted only two field goals in eight minutes leading up to Nickens’ last hurrah. Maryland was an anemic 8-of-33 on its second-half attempts before reverting to first-half form (46 percent shooting) in crunch time.

“[Nickens’ shot] was big,” Layman said. “No one else was hitting shots for us. Jared stepped up for us, especially on that last one.”

Said Turgeon: “As I say all the time, 'Act like you’re a kid on the playground. Just relax and play your game.' And Jared listened. … In the end, the defense was great, we executed down the stretch, and Jared Nickens hit big shots.”

Of course.

That, after all, is what shooters are supposed to do.

“I just let it go,” Nickens reiterated. “No hesitation.”

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