COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Diamond Stone started for the first time in eight games and apparently he wasn’t supposed to. Jake Layman let that nugget slip out in the postgame of Maryland’s not-as-close-as the-score-would-indicate 88-63 Big Ten win over Rutgers Jan. 6 at Xfinity Center.
No one was talking about the mistake that had Damonte Dodd nearly running out in introductions instead of Stone but rest assured it was about the last mistake the third-ranked Terrapins (14-1, 3-0) made on the night. And if Layman, who had a game-high 18 points, plays like he did, well, he can say whatever he wants to whenever he wants to, even giving away that little secret after everyone else was back in the locker room.
“It was supposed to be Damonte but someone messed that up,” said Layman of a pregame procedural error at the scorer’s table. “But Diamond does a great job of imposing his will. He’s so big, he can miss a shot and then go right back up and get it.”
The Terrapins certainly imposed their will on the struggling Scarlet Knights (6-10, 0-3). Rutgers, minus three players from their rotation, lost for the third straight time, kept alive their streak of never winning a Big Ten road game, and generally looked awful in the process under former Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan.
“I’ve been on the other bench so I get it,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “They had to play five guards in the first half, but I wanted our guys to continue to play well and get better.”
The Terrapins were mostly relentless on a night when staying focused – leading by 20 and 30 much of the evening -- made that proposition a chore. Throw in playing the second half without Melo Trimble, who had tightness in his hamstring, and well this wasn’t the Maryland team we’ve seen all year.
Turgeon said they played more zone, probably upwards of 10 minutes, than the team had played all season combined, and Varun Ram played a season-high 16 minutes in Trimble’s absence. Trimble had four points, and two assists in 14 minutes, and was also part of a commanding defensive effort.
“Melo is fine,” said Turgeon when asked about his star guard’s status. “Melo will be fine.”
During some stretches, Jordan had to play painfully small, and predictably, big, bad Maryland went inside. The Terrapins had a 20-6 points-in-the-paint advantage in the first half and were on their way to a commanding 49-27 rebounding edge.
Defensively, Rutgers could muster just 38.6 percent shooting (22-of-57) and of those 35 misses, well, Maryland had 31 defensive rebounds.
“Our defense early is what carried us through,” said Layman. “We took them out of it in the first half, which is good.”
Layman’s 5-of-10 shooting from the field (3-of-5 from 3-point range) was also good. The streaky senior has back-to-back games of at least 50 percent shooting for the first time this year, and notched his third double-digit scoring effort in the last 11 contests. “I think the way that we’re trying to play offensively is to just make the extra pass, and tonight we did that,” he said.
Layman was lauded afterward for his improved all-around play, which on this night included four rebounds and two blocked shots. He has five blocks in the last three games now.
“Whenever (Layman) gets a layup or gets to the foul line, it usually allows him to make some shots,” said Turgeon. “It’s his activity on defense that has really been tremendous. He’s playing like a senior, lie it’s his last go-round and he wants to make the most of it. He’s practicing hard and playing hard in the game. He has been great.”
But his shot and his points haven’t always been there this year as his role has changed with so much more inside presence from the likes of Stone and Robert Carter. Layman had 29 double-figure scoring games last season, and shot 37.8 percent from behind the arc. This year, he has seven and is hitting 35 percent from deep.
“I’m happy for him so everybody will get off his back a little bit,” said Turgeon. “He has been great for me (this season) whether he’s making shots or not.”
With the win, Maryland moved to 3-0 in conference, something the Terrapins haven’t done since 2001-02, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It was the ACC and wins over NC State, North Carolina and Georgia Tech took the Terps to the mark. This year, it’s Penn State, Northwestern and now Rutgers, the Big Ten equivalent of a free space these days.
The Terrapins rolled to 9-0 at home this year before another sellout crowd, and have now won eight games in a row headed to a big test Jan. 9 at Wisconsin. The next home game is Jan. 16 against Ohio State.
On Jan. 6, the Terrapins shot 46.2 percent (30-of-65) and never trailed after Rasheed Sulaimon, on his way to 15 points, shot them out to an early lead. Stone, he who wasn’t supposed to start but did, had 15 points and 10 rebounds, the second double-double of his career. Robert Carter had 12 points and seven rebounds, hitting 6-of-7 shots, and Jared Nickens just missed his first double-double with nine points and a career high 10 rebounds.
“We just wanted to dominate in this game,” said Nickens. “That was one of our keys, have the will to dominate the game, and I think we did a good job of doing that.”
Turgeon cleared the bench and Ivan Bender had four points, and Dodd added two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes. Jaylen Brantley was just 1-of-6 from the field but had three points, three rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes.
Maryland led by 28 points at the half but the Scarlet Knights hit seven of their first 10 shots in the second half. They still couldn’t cut very deep into Maryland’s lead. While the Terrapins were succumbing to some sloppy play, they still managed three 3-point plays of the old school variety. Layman got one early on but as Rutgers crept within 25 points, Sulaimon got one on a drive, and then Stone hit a short jumper and was fouled for another one at 13:52. He made the score 59-34.
Then Layman hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and well, the Terrapins were off and running again. They ran off 16 straight points and led 74-34 at 9:16 on another 3-ball from Nickens. On the night, Maryland hit 8-25 (32 percent) behind the arc, including a late three by Ram who had a career-high five points.
Corey Sanders hit two threes in the final 1:30 to help make the final score look a little better and allow him to lead the Scarlet Knights with 16 points. He was one of four Rutgers players in double figures though they cumulatively slogged to that 38.6 percent shooting as a team.
“I think that’s what our identity is trying to be – a defensive team,” said Ram. “Our man-to-man defense is one we really pride ourselves on. In the first half, we were able to stop them and hold them to – I think we had nine stops in a row at one point – and that’s what we pride ourselves on.
Between the defense, 36 points in the paint and 15 second chance points, runty Rutgers never had a chance. The Terrapins manhandled the Scarlet Knights in the first half, running out to a 25-11 lead, then running off 15 straight points after a rare Rutgers basket. They took a 46-18 advantage to the locker room, holding the Knights to 6-of-25 shooting (24 percent).
Maryland, led by Carter and Stone inside, had a 20-6 advantage in points in the paint and a whopping 31-12 rebounding edge. Carter and Stone were both too big and too athletic, nimbly working to the basket inside the Rutgers 2-3 zone. And when they missed, a Terp often came up with the rebound and that led to an 11-0 second chance points advantage. Four of Stone’s six first half rebounds came on the offensive end.
It was Maryland’s top halftime score since 46 against Marshall, but the Thundering Herd had 36 points to their credit that game. The 28-point bulge was the Terrapins’ largest halftime lead this season.
Maryland never trailed. Sulaimon had the hot hand early, opening the scoring with a 3-pointer. He had seven of Maryland’s first 13 points. The Scarlet Knights got a three from Mike Williams and then D.J. Foreman spun in for a layup at 14:43 to make it 13-9, but that was as close as Rutgers would get.
Maryland went on a 12-2 blitz, and held Rutgers scoreless over one stretch of six minutes and 30 seconds. The Knights missed eight shots and had three turnovers. When Layman hit two free throws at 6:59, Maryland led 25-11.
Soon came the 15-0 run, Sulaimon and then Nickens hitting 3-pointers, Nickens’ at 1:40 to make it 43-15.
To make matters worse for the visitors, starters Foreman and Greg Lewis each picked up three fouls before the break, part of the reason Jordan had to play so much zone. The other reason was the Knights had no answers for the Terrapins.
Maryland’s use of the zone in the second half, something Turgeon was happy to get an opportunity to work on, actually helped the Knights, who had 16 field goals in the second half and got to play a little slower and make the clock move quicker.
“I appreciate Mark Turgeon for understanding who we are and deciding to pull back the hounds a little bit,” said Jordan.