COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- You never want to lose a game, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon drilling home the point during his press conference Jan. 15. But for a Terps’ team coming off a 70-67 road conference loss at Michigan, Turgeon found much more than a sliver of silver linings.
The Terps (15-2, 4-1 Big Ten) played lockdown defense in the second half after a sieve-like first frame.
UMD came from 13 down to briefly take the lead.
Senior wing Jake Layman showed some offensive mojo, nailing clutch shots and finishing at the rim.
Freshman center Diamond Stone recorded another double-double.
Little-used backup point guard Varun Ram played 14 minutes of feisty “D.”
“There was a lot of positives that came out of a loss,” said Turgeon, whose Terps host Ohio State Jan. 16. “We just have to pay more attention to detail. We’re a work in progress. We lost a close game against a good team. The sun comes up and we move on.”
Layman’s performance Jan. 12 was particularly encouraging. The oft-critiqued senior recorded his second 18-point outing in three games, and this outburst was more impressive than the one against Rutgers. Layman finished 7-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-5 beyond the arc, hitting two clutch triples to keep the Terps close. On top of that, Layman tallied 10 rebounds and, for the third straight outing, played dogged defensively.
“I think for me, just be more aggressive. I’ve been trying to do that a little more recently,” Layman said. “It was just matchups. [The Wolverines] weren’t doubling me in the post, so that worked out for us. We have so many scorers, you can’t double everybody.
“But I think if I’m just aggressive and find opportunities, I think as the game goes on I’ll start making shots. I don’t really think it matters if I miss some early.”
The latter part of Layman’s statement was in response to Turgeon’s comment that the wing has a better shooting night when he makes his first couple buckets. But regardless of how, or why, Layman’s clicking offensively, Turgeon believes he helps the squad in numerous other ways.
“The thing about Jake, it’s about how well he’s guarding, how well he’s rebounding, how he’s communicating, how he’s leading, all the intangibles – it’s night and day from a couple years ago,” Turgeon said. “Scoring is nice; we’ll take it. But all the other things he’s doing is the reason we’re 15-2.”
Layman said as a freshman he was purely a shooter, with little regard for defense; driving; or rebounding. Three seasons later, he’s becoming a more well-rounded player, with the most noticeable improvements coming defensively.
“I think being at the ‘3’ spot now [as opposed to the ‘4’ last year], I’m guarding more guards,” Layman said. “It takes guarding the ball a lot more in that spot. I think I’m doing well with it.”
Layman’s fellow double-double mate, Diamond Stone, once again lived up to his McDonald’s All-American reputation. It wasn’t 39 and 12, the numbers the center put up against Penn State, but 22 and 11 isn’t too shabby an effort.
“[Stone] was one of the best high school players in the country, and now he’s living up to it. It’s hard to double him,” forward Robert Carter said. “He just has to continue working and doing what he’s doing.”
The Terps figured to have an advantage inside against Michigan, but neither Damonte Dodd nor Michal Cekovsky could convert. Which meant Dodd’s “backup” had to do all the heavy lifting.
Turgeon still won’t insert Stone into the starting lineup, but the center’s been garnering No. 1 minutes each night (28 against UM).
“We’re playing to win, so whatever it takes,” Turgeon said of the center rotation. “Diamond is really coming … and where he’s come the furthest is defensively. It’s real exciting to see what he’s doing defensively for us. And then offensively he’s always been a talent. He’s got touch with both hands; it’s something he’s worked on since he was little.”
Speaking of backups, the Terps saw another one step up and perhaps earn a larger role moving forward. The diminutive gnat Varun Ram logged 14 minutes rotating in with lead guard Melo Trimble, and held his own against counterpart Derrick Walton, who had 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Not known for his shooting stroke, Ram finished 0-of-2 from the field, but he’s considered one of Maryland’s most effective on-ball defenders.
“Varun really helped us defensively; he was a breath of fresh air,” said Turgeon, who also praised Jared Nickens’ defense, although admitted the sophomore wing has to find his confidence after another poor shooting night. “I’m going to coach by feel, but I do think we built some depth the other night. We didn’t win the game but we built depth. … Varun was great.”
Ram’s emergence came at the expense of the normal No. 2, Jaylen Brantley. The junior college transfer, who has been struggling on both ends of the floor, saw just one minute against Michigan.
“With Jaylen and Varun, it’s offense and defense. Varun gives us so much on defense, and Jaylen stretches the offense,” Turgeon said. “With those two it’s an offense- defense rotation.”
Expect the two tiny guards to continue sharing minutes moving forward, playing time varying depending on the opponent.
Trimble is obviously the breadwinner, but the Terps said they do trust both Brantley and Ram when they’re on the floor. Even offensively.
“I think they do a great job running the plays the right way and getting guys open,” Layman said. “Especially Jaylen with finding driving lanes; we’ve all seen him drive the ball and make some great plays. If they’re confident and teams have to guard them, it will make us a more complete team.”
The one Terp who did not have a great night Jan. 12, however, was the aforementioned Trimble. If the Wooden Watch List Award guard would have compiled merely an average effort, it’s likely Maryland would’ve emerged with a victory in Ann Arbor, Mich.
But Trimble ended up having arguably the worst game of his career, displaying atypical frustration in the process. In 30 minutes, Trimble scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting (0-of-3 from range), while turning the ball over four times compared to three assists.
“Melo’s human. Every once in awhile you’ll have a bad game, just like anyone else,” Carter said. “Everyone’s got to do their part [when Trimble’s not scoring]. I feel like we can’t go out looking for one guy to win the game for us.”
Said Turgeon: “Melo’s fine. He never found rhythm, he got in foul trouble. It’s very physical on him right now … and hopefully as the season goes on we’ll figure out ways [to rest him]. We’re going to keep driving the ball, that’s what we do, so hopefully he’ll get to the foul line more often. He’s got to stay confident. His shot wasn’t really falling, but hopefully he’ll get that going and that will help his driving game too.”
Trimble will have his chance to bounce back Jan. 16 against Ohio State.
The Terps are 8-0 after losses the last two seasons, but this upcoming game isn’t exactly an automatic “W.” Ohio State has rebounded from a November stretch that saw the Buckeyes (12-6, 4-1) lose four straight games to UT-Arlington, LA Tech, Memphis and UVA. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are coming off a 94-68 demolition of Rutgers.
“They’re a good team; they’re talented and deep,” Carter said. “Everyone comes out ready to play against you. They’re going to bring their A-plus-plus games. This is one of the best conferences in the country, and you have to be ready to play.”
Since conference play began, OSU has averaged 74 points per game and allowed 69, a five-point scoring margin that puts the squad 10th in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are shooting 45.5 percent from the field (ninth in the Big Ten) and 34 percent from range (10th in the Big Ten), although they’re only hitting about 63 percent of their foul shots, which ranks last in the league. Conversely, conference opponents are hitting just 38.5 percent of their shots (third in the Big Ten) and 33 percent beyond the arc (10th in the Big Ten) against the Ohio State defense.
During OSU’s five conference games, they’ve only out-boarded foes by 1.5 rebounds per, but they’re actively protecting the rim (5.5 blocks per game, second best in the Big Ten) and coming up with steals (5.5 per game, fourth in the Big Ten).
“They’re so talented. Every player on their team is a top 100, a lot are top 50 and three or four are top 25,” said Turgeon, who mentioned his squad has to do a better job rebounding and boxing out. “They’re getting better, they’re a good team and they’ve got our full attention. They whipped us last year pretty good.”
The Buckeyes’ floor general is freshman JaQuan Lyle (6-5), who has picked up the pace offensively in Big Ten play. He’s been averaging 14 points and 7.8 assists these last five games, shooting 43 percent from the floor in the process. But Lyle is just a 21 percent 3-point shooter and cans only 66.7 percent of his free throws. He’s recording a team-high 6.4 rebounds a night too.
“He’s a great player, especially on ball screens. We need to contain him as much as possible,” Layman said.
Ohio State doesn’t feature a true shooting guard, but wing Jae’Sean Tate (6-4) is typically in the backcourt. Tate’s seen his scoring average drop to 8.8 points per game in Big Ten play, although the slasher’s shooting 51 percent from the field. Tate, though, has not canned a single 3-pointer the last five games, and is only a 30 percent free-throw shooter. He does grab 4.4 rebounds and dish out 1.2 assists per game.
Guard Kam Williams (6-2) comes off the bench, but sees significant minutes. The team’s most potent 3-point marksmen, he’s shooting 52 percent from deep and 54 percent from the field the past five games. He’s scoring 11.4 points per game and converting an OSU-best 83 percent from the line during the stretch too.
Forward Marc Loving (6-7), another wing, represents the Buckeyes' No. 1 scoring threat at 16.2 points per in conference bouts. He’s 50 percent from the field, 39 percent from range and pulls down 5.4 rebounds per game.
Another forward, Keita Bates-Diop (6-7), has seen his numbers drop off of late. A double-digit scorer during the early part of the season, he’s putting up 8.8 a night and shooting just 39.5-percent from the floor and 26.7 percent from deep in Big Ten play. Bates-Diop is also tallying a little more than five rebounds a game.
Meanwhile, big man Trevor Thompson (6-11), a true center, has seven blocks the last five games. He’s not much of a scorer (six points per in conference play), but Thompson’s actually one of OSU’s most effective free-throw shooters (72.7 percent), while he grabs 5.8 rebounds per game.
It’s also worth noting power forward Daniel Giddens (6-10), who rotates in with Thompson. The freshman hasn’t developed a scoring touch yet, but he has 12 blocks during conference play and has 36 for the season. Needless to say, he’s the Buckeyes’ top rim protector and ranks third in the league.
“The [Michigan] loss put a bad taste in our mouth. Now we want to take it out on Ohio State,” Carter said.
“[The UM loss] lit a big fire under us,” Layman added. “We don’t like to lose and we don’t want to lose anymore.”