COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Each time senior wing Jake Layman’s shooting woes have been broached this season, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon’s responded with a similar variation of the same mantra: “Every time Jake shoots the ball, we all think it’s going in. No one has lost confidence in Jake.”
Not only does Layman have a track record that speaks for itself, but, per his fellow Terps, he routinely cans triples from way the heck out there in practice. Even against some of Maryland’s most relentless defenders.
Although, UMD’s Rasheed Sulaimon would never readily acknowledge such an occurrence (if a tree falls in a forest, and no media members are around . . .).
“Not really,” laughed Sulaimon when asked if Layman’s given him trouble in practice. “I’m sorry, that’s just the way I am, I don’t give anyone on offense credit. I try to dominate guys as much as I can. But [Layman] definitely gives me a run for my money.
“Jake is a rare player, especially at the college level. He’s a 6-9 ‘3’ man who can shoot the ball.”
Layman finally showed off some of those rare skills Jan. 6, ending an extended dry spell. During Maryland’s 88-63 home victory against Rutgers, Layman scored a season-high-runner-up 18 points on 5-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from distance. After a missed jumper out of the gate, Layman quickly found his rhythm with a 3 from the wing before the first media timeout. He nailed another trey nine minutes later, and then drained two more during the latter frame, a second half where Layman put up 11 of his 18 points.
Moreover, Layman finished a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line, the first time he’d reached the charity stripe on that many occasions since the season’s fourth game.
“I was happy for him so everyone can get off his back a little bit,” Turgeon quipped. “He was trying to get himself going, getting to the foul line and doing different things. Whenever he gets a layup or gets to the foul line, he usually steps out and makes a shot. But he’s a smart kid.”
Said Layman: “I’m trying to be as complete of a player as I can for this team, and I’m just trying to win in different ways. It’s not going to be scoring every night. That’s what’s special about this team. I say it all the time, we have so many guys that can score, and tonight was my night. [Jan. 9] it might be someone else’s night.”
Problem is, it hasn’t been Layman’s night in quite some time. The Rutgers outburst was only his second double-digit outing and the third time he’s drilled two or more triples the past seven games. His field-goal percentage during that stretch has hovered right around 40 percent, well below his usual average (around 47 percent).
Layman’s struggles hadn’t been the product of low-percentage looks, either. Thanks to the Terps’ stellar ball-movement, he’s typically garnered open looks . . . only to draw iron.
But despite the shooting conundrum, Layman hasn’t let it affect the rest of his game. He’s been a key part of the Terps’ aforementioned passing prowess this year, and he cleans the glass fairly well too. And while Layman may not be a true lockdown defender, it isn’t through lack of effort, the 6-9 wing altering his share of shots.
“It shows how much he’s grown from past years, from any guy if they don’t score they feel like they’re not part of the game, but he’s shown a lot of maturity,” Sulaimon said. “Even if he’s not scoring as much as he wants to, he still effects the game, whether that be on defense, hitting the glass, and bringing energy and leadership for us. And it’s his job and Robert’s [Carter] job to continue to lead us, and they’re doing a tremendous job.”
Turgeon specifically pointed to Layman’s defensive consistency during his final college campaign. While there have been occasions where Layman’s failed to rotate quickly enough, been beaten off the dribble or didn’t hedge hard on shooters (see: the UNC loss and the UConn game, in particular), he’s used his length well when guarding smaller wings. Plus, he’s tallied seven two-steal games thus far (second on the team), and had five outings with three or more blocks – including each of the last two (also second on the team).
“He’s been great for me all year, whether he makes shots or doesn’t make shots. … It’s his activity on defense that’s just been tremendous,” Turgeon said. “He’s playing like a senior who’s having his last go-around and making the most of it, just playing hard in practice and games. He’s been great.”
Layman’s teammates have certainly appreciated the effort.
Senior backup Varun Ram is one of the few Terps who have seen Layman develop throughout his College Park tenure. The walk-on point guard said there is a significant difference between Layman’s efforts four years ago and in 2015-16.
“When Jake first came in, he really struggled to guard,” Ram said. “So just to see how far he’s come, it’s been awesome. We talk all the time how much better defensively he’s gotten. At practice he’s always asking me to push him, because I’m a little guard and he’s always trying to guard me and get better. . . I’m so proud of him.”
When informed of the previous comments, Layman said he simply plays as hard as he can each night -- and always has. Which may be true, though the veteran wing will be the first to admit he’d like his shots to fall a bit more often from here on out.
The Terps will need them to for the touted squad to reach their full potential.
“I think this year I definitely don’t want to have any regrets,” Layman acknowledged. “But just continuing to be aggressive in areas that I can be and doing what it takes to win -- that’s just the kind of player I am.”