ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — There must be something about playing in the Caribbean that brings out the best — or the beast — in Maryland men's basketball sophomore Jake Layman.
On a trip last summer to the Bahamas, where the Terps played three games against competition made up mostly of older, local players, the 6-foot-8 swingman was the team's breakout star in a Maryland sweep.
And on Friday here at the Paradise Jam, Layman was a big reason why Maryland broke out of another early-game struggle against Marist to run away from the Red Foxes, 68-43.
The Terps (2-2) will play Northern Iowa (2-2) on Sunday at the University of the Virgin Islands' Sports and Fitness Center, with the semifinal winner going to Monday's late-night championship game.
But as Layman enjoys early-season scoring binges, opposing teams are now gearing their defense to prevent him from getting off too many shots.
Layman is averaging nearly 16 points a game, despite taking a little over 11 shots a game.
"It's really hard to get Jake shots because of the way people are guarding [him]," Turgeon said Friday.
Against Marist, Layman led the Terps with 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including four of six 3-pointers. Layman's burst came after he missed his first four shots — including a pair of 3-pointers and a dunk — in a first half in which the Terps missed 18 of 27 overall.
Whatever breathing room Maryland had in the first half was mostly due to Layman. He threw down an alley-oop pass from junior guard Nick Faust (City) for a dunk, then buried a 3-pointer on the next possession to help the Terps build a 17-8 lead.
"We weren't scoring on offense, and that kind of sparked us," Layman said of his first dunk.
After Marist tied the score at 18, Layman hit another 3-pointer to send Maryland on an 8-2 run to close the half. He made yet another 3-pointer to cap a 10-0 run for the Terps to start the second half.
A year ago, Layman might have stopped shooting and done little else if some early shots didn't fall. It also helps to hear encouragement from the sideline.
"All the guys on the bench and the coaches were saying, 'Keep shooting the ball, we know you're going to make it,'" said Layman, who is shooting 22-for-46 this season, including 13 of 25 3-pointers. "It was great to hear, and I started knocking them down."
Said Turgeon: "I thought we did a better job of screening for hm and executing better and getting him some shots. He makes some big ones for us. He's playing with a lot of confidence."
Turgeon and others look back to the Bahamas tour as a point when that confidence started to build after a freshman season in which Layman struggled early to make shots and, later on, to do it with great consistency.
Asked whether he now feels pressure to be Maryland's main scorer while others, including junior guards Dez Wells and Faust, have struggled with their offensive games so far this season, the soft-spoken Layman answered as assertively as he gets off the court.
"Not really pressure. I think I have that role now to be the scorer on this team, and I think I'm ready for it," Layman said without a trace of bravado.
Layman has worked hard to become more than a standstill shooter, using a still-developing floor game to get to the rim and better-than-average ups to finish above it.
Turgeon also likes what he has seen from the other parts of Layman's game.
"Defensively, he's getting better, and I thought he rebounded a little better in the second half," Turgeon said of Layman, who tied sophomore forward Charles Mitchell with a team-high eight rebounds Friday.
Layman came to College Park as a late bloomer who spent much of his high school career as a three-star recruit, before eventually finding his way onto the national recruiting radar during the summer before his senior year.
Playing for a school outside Boston not known for sending basketball players to Division I, Layman seemed likely headed to nearby Providence, where his aunt was a star player. That was before Maryland assistant Scott Spinelli, a New Englander with deep ties to the region, swooped in.
If the Terps can get past Northern Iowa, a strong 3-point-shooting team, they could face Providence in the 10 p.m. final Monday. The Friars, who beat Vanderbilt on Friday, face La Salle, which beat Morgan State.
Given the way Layman has performed in these tropical climes, Turgeon might consider scheduling another such tournament destination before Layman moves on. NBA scouts project him to be part of the 2015 draft if his game continues to grow at its current pace.
Layman certainly wouldn't mind going to another early-season tournament like the Paradise Jam.
"I like warm weather," he said.
It seems to bring out his best.
Or his beast.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun