COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maybe St. Francis (Pa.) got hit by a bus Dec. 4 at Xfinity Center.
Second-ranked Maryland flattened the Red Flash 96-55, two days after the Terrapins spent most of the day on a bus coming back from their first loss of the season at North Carolina. The Terrapins (7-1) bonded on the 5 ½-hour bus ride and certainly showed no ill affects from a late arrival back home Wednesday.
“We were over that,” said Robert Carter, Jr. “That (North Carolina) game is in the past now. I felt like we got better from that game even though we lost. Now there was this game, and now we’re getting ready for UConn.”
Carter, Jr., scored a career-high 20 points, had six rebounds, six assists and two blocks to help Maryland move on quickly. He and Jake Layman were both 5-of-7 from the field, Layman pumping in 16 points, including 4-of-6 shooting behind the arc, bouncing back from an off night for him at Chapel Hill.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon ran a play for Layman on the first sequence to get him off to a quick start but St. Francis defended well, when Layman got the ball he was forced to drive and ended up with a lay-up. He would go on to hit his first five shots.
“It makes it a lot easier when your first bucket goes in,” said Layman. “After being in a slump, just seeing the ball go through the net is always good. I look at myself as an important piece of this team. Not just scoring-wise, but defensively, too. It was good to see Coach have confidence in me on that first play.”
Coming off the bench for the first time, Diamond Stone also had 16 points, hitting 7-of-9 shots. Damonte Dodd, who started 31 games last year, made his first 2015-16 start and helped the Terrapins get out of the gate quickly in this “trap” game, sandwiched between the tough 89-81 loss at North Carolina Dec. 1, and next Dec. 8 trip to Connecticut, where it is believed the Terrapins will fly this time.
They were already soaring against the over-matched Red Flash Dec. 4, hitting a season-high 67.4 percent (31-46) from the field, registering 22 assists to just 10 turnovers and blocking seven shots. They held St. Francis to 29 percent (18-of-62) and won by their biggest margin of the season.
“All we’ve talked about since [Dec. 1] was defending,” said Turgeon, who got extra time on the bus Wednesday to opine on the topic. “I thought for the most part we continued to concentrate defensively. We were pretty dialed in to what they were doing. I was really pleased with that. It was a step in the right direction for us.”
“It’s still early in the year, we’re still getting better,” said Carter. “We guarded tonight. We focused on it. We made them shoot a pretty bad shooting percentage. We’re just getting better. I feel like we’ve probably got the best offensive team in the country, but defense-wise we can get better.”
Part of Maryland getting better was finding more steady contributors, part of a whopping 41-18 advantage in bench scoring Dec. 4. Transfer point guard Jaylen Brantley, who had just one point in the first seven games, had seven points Dec. 4 and just one turnover in 14 minutes. “Coach Turgeon kept telling me to be aggressive and be myself,” said Brantley. “He told me I make shots in practice, I might as well go make them in the game.”
Then in the waning moments, Ivan Bender made his first appearance and made an impact. The 6-9 freshman had five points and six rebounds in the final four minutes, and looked like he might be ready for more of a role, too.
“I was really happy for Ivan,” said Turgeon. “He sat the first (seven games). We have so many good bigs, it’s hard to get guys in the game. Look at Robert Carter, look at his numbers tonight and he didn’t play a lot. Ivan, six rebounds in four minutes, that’s 60 rebounds in a 40-minute game. For his first time on the floor, I thought he acted really mature and showed a lot of poise.”
Bender had been ruled ineligible for the first six games this season for an undisclosed reason but likely due to his time with KK Split, a Croatian professional team from which Maryland officials claim he never received any pay. He sat out last year recovering from two knee surgeries.
Dodd was 4-of-4 from the field and had eight points and two rebounds. “I don’t know what lies ahead,” said Turgeon of Dodd or Stone starting at center. “Tonight we had a quick start and that was important to me. We jumped out 13-3 on them, and that was big. The kid (Stone) can score the ball. He can catch anything. He makes it look easy down there, but most importantly I thought his defense was better, his ball-screen defense was better, his awareness was better.”
With the bigs coming up so big, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon took a backseat and just enjoyed feeding the post. Trimble had a season low three points to go with seven assists. He and Sulaimon, who had eight points and three assists, combined to take just five shots.
“I took (Trimble) out with six and some change to play, and he said, ‘That’s enough Coach,’” said Turgeon. “He’s trying to show a part of his game he didn’t show last year. Twelve assists the other night, seven tonight. He had seven in another game. I think he’s really enjoying that. He knows he can score when he needs to score. We had such a size advantage all across the board we just kept talking about playing in the paint.”
St. Francis (3-4) had just one player over 6-8, and just couldn’t match up with the Terrapins, particularly Carter, who got to the free throw line 10 times and hit nine. The Terrapins were 25-of-29 at the line. Then Stone coming off the bench with his assortment of low post moves and that didn’t even seem fair.
Michal Cekovsky hit all three of his shots and finished with seven points. Jared Nickens, who for a change didn’t have to hit big shots, had three points and two rebounds. Fourteen Terrapins played and all but walk-ons Trevor Anzmann and Andrew Terrell scored.
The Red Flash had scored the first two times they had the ball in the second half to whittle Maryland’s lead down to 45-28 at 18:36 on Greg Brown’s jumper. But Layman buried his fourth 3-pointer at the other end and the Terrapins were off to the races again.
Dodd scored inside from a Carter feed, and then after a turnover, Trimble drilled a 3-pointer. Cekovsky scored in transition from Trimble and then Ceko got a three-point play down low to make it 58-28 at 14:14, and take what little remaining drama there was back out of the proceedings.
During that run, the Maryland defense, held St. Francis to 2-of-10 shooting in pushing the lead to 30 points. The Red Flash hit just 8-of-27 from 3-point range (29.6 percent), actually better than their total field goal percentage. That 29 percent was the lowest percentage this year against Maryland.
Ben Millaud-Meunier led the visitors with 13 points, and forward Ronnie Drinnon added 11 and 10 rebounds. Maryland had just a 34-31 rebounding edge but if you don’t miss, there aren’t many rebounds to be had.
The Terrapins were outrebounded 15-12 in the first half, the kind of thing to make coaches peel paint off the locker room walls in certain circumstances.
This was not one of those circumstances.
St. Francis did get two late 3-pointers from Millaud Meunier to slice the Terrapin lead to 45-24 at the half, but it was all Terps, otherwise. Maryland shot a blistering 68.2 percent (15-of-22) and led by as many as 25 points at 1:40 when Brantley hit a 3-pointer over the Red Flash zone to make it 43-18.
St. Francis hit just eight of 27 shots (29.6 percent), turned the ball over eight times and generally started slow, got slower and never provided much of a threat to the Terrapins.
Layman, who didn’t miss a shot in the first half, had 11 points at the break, including three 3-pointers, and Carter had 10, to go with three rebounds and three assists.
“He was terrific tonight,” said Trugeon of Carter. “To get to the foul line was big. It was good to see him getting six assists, not turning the ball over. I thought his defense was better and his defensive rebounding was good to see. Robert is such a a good kid, and he gets a little bit more comfortable each and every game. There is a lot more in hm that we haven’t seen yet.”
Maryland led 30-14 at 5:20 after Milluad-Meunier, scored on a drive, but then the Terrapins shifted to another gear, rattling off the next six points. Stone got a dunk from Carter, Carter scored in transition and then Stone picked up a loose ball, drove to the basket, Euro-stepped around a defender and laid it in left-handed at 4:50 to make it 38-14.
The Terrapins avoided the slow start that had plagued them in some recent nonconference home starts. They hit eight of their first 14 shots and had just two turnovers in building a 25-8 lead in the first 12 minutes.
Carter and Layman, an inside and outside combination of domination, each had eight points in the early spree, Carter getting six points at the free throw line. His half hook at 9:12 made it 25-8.
Over that same span, St. Francis was just 4-of-18 from the field and had five turnovers leading to 10 Maryland points.
The Red Flash had five missed shots and a turnover to show for their first seven possessions. The Terrapins ran out to a 9-0 lead, Layman scoring inside, Carter getting two free throws after a Sulaimon steal and Dodd, a layup from Trimble. Layman’s three made it a nine-point lead at 17:52.
St. Francis finally scored at 17:36, Millaud-Meunier hitting a three. MIllaud-Meunier, a Canadian taking advantage of the exchange rate, had 13 of St. Francis’ 24 points at the half.
Maryland meets Connecticut Dec. 8 at 9 p.m. on ESPN. The next home game is Sat., Dec. 12 at 4 p.m., against Maryland Eastern Shore.