COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After struggling to adjust to high-major competition for much of his first year at Maryland, Terps junior guard Jaylen Brantley took a significant stride forward Dec. 3 at Xfinity Center. In what was inarguably his best all-around performance since arriving from junior college last season, the 5-foot-11 backup point dropped in 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting; nailed a triple; dropped one assist; pulled down two rebounds; and recorded a key steal in Maryland’s 71-70 victory against Oklahoma State.
Brantley’s dozen points were the most he’s scored against a high-major opponent, while his 22 minutes of floor time were a career high.
“I thought Brantley was terrific,” head coach Mark Turgoen said. “Jaylen played [Dec. 3] like he practices every day. He practices hard, he’s a leader, he believes, he never stops talking. He’s a winner and makes wining plays. His AAU team, they won a national championship, and they never took him out of the game. He’s just a flat-out winner.
“We had no chance without him, and he was terrific. He way my option. I’m really happy for him, because when he first got here he struggled. He just stayed the course, worked hard all summer and now it’s paying dividends for him.”
Turgeon’s comments, particularly the “my option” statement, were in reference to lead guard Melo Trimble’s off-shooting night. The junior went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and scored 13 points on 4-of-12 from the field.
In the past when Trimble has failed to deliver buckets, UMD’s offense has stagnated, the Terps searching high and low for another contributor to fill the void. But against Oklahoma State, Brantley, along with another maligned offensive presence, center Damonte Dodd, delivered on both ends of the floor. Brantley, in particularly, ignited Maryland’s second-half run, when the Terps overcame a 12-point deficit to finally take the lead late.
“He’s confident. A game like that, with that kind of situation, he really played well and contributed,” Trimble said of Brantley. “He made shots and his defense was outstanding as well. I think he made a game-winning play when he dove for the ball to get the jump ball. … So, just him going out there and playing that way, he’s going to keep getting better.”
Brantley played well pretty much the entire game, starting his night by displaying some toughness by grabbing an offensive rebound before nailing a corner trey off a pass from Dion Wiley. But the sequence Trimble, Turgeon and others harped on began with just under 12 minutes remaining in the game. With Maryland trailing 60-48, Trimble took a seat in favor of his backup.
Brantley initially misfired on a 3, but he quickly made up for it with a nifty feed to Dodd for a dunk. On the next possession, Brantley showed more gumption than he had in some time, splitting the Cowboys’ defense for a layup. And immediately after that, Brantley picked star OSU guard Jawun Evans’ pocket as UMD cut the deficit in half.
“Brantley, that was probably a little curveball I swung and missed on,” OSU coach Brad Underwood said. “But give him credit… you get consumed with other guys, and he did what a good player should do: He stepped up and made the most of an opportunity.”
Trimble reentered the game about at around the 7:45 mark and helped complete the comeback, but when Brantley left the Terps trailed by just five points.
“We started our run when Melo was on the bench. That was really nice,” Turgeon said. “When that can happen, you give [Trimble] three to four minutes [of rest] … that’s great.”
Brantley, who is quick to diffuse credit, immediately noted that Trimble delivered down the stretch to seal the victory. In fact, Brantley credited Trimble for helping him raise his own game.
“The man over there [Trimble], he just puts us on his back,” Brantley said. “The game is a lot slower for me now, and I’ve had a lot of talks with Melo too. So I’ve just been figuring out the game and taking advantage of some of the things he’s told me.
“And a lot of it is just me playing harder. [Turgeon] keeps telling me to keep competing with Anthony [Cowan] and Melo, and that’s what I’ve done. That’s helped me a lot in practice. Anthony picks me up 94 feet in practice and I do the same with him. We make each other better.”
Brantley admitted last season he wasn’t used to the competition at the top level of college basketball. But during the offseason his goal was to get a little better each day, and eventually he grew more comfortable with himself and his abilities.
“Just really playing hard, competing every day and just working on my game – I did that every day,” Brantley said. “I wasn’t sure of my role [coming in], honestly. But I just kept working, and the more I played, the more confidence I got.”
Brantley said he’s even more confident after delivering against Oklahoma State. He mentioned he’d use the game as a stepping stone as he looks to continue improving as the Big Ten schedule approaches.
“I’ve spoken to [Brantley], and I said, ‘I played against you in prep school and you killed us.’ I said, ‘You’re one of the best guards in the conference,’” Dodd said. “And that’s how he played [against OSU]. He’s a great player and he’s going to keep getting better.”