BLACKSBURG, VA. — When he hit a 3-point shot right before the halftime buzzer Saturday at Cassell Coliseum, Maryland sophomore forward Jake Layman screamed, pumped his fist and ran off with his teammates to the dressing room with an eight-point lead.
There was no low-five celebration line, as there had been for Layman when he hit a similar shot nearly two weeks ago at North Carolina State that gave the Terps a nine-point lead over a Wolfpack team playing without T.J. Warren, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top scorer.
There was no second-half collapse, either.
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Maryland showed that it had learned its lesson, burying a Virginia Tech team playing without two key contributors amid a second-half clinic of tight defense, continued hot shooting and an array of dunks – the best coming from Layman – in an 80-60 victory over the reeling Hokies.
“I’m much more confident than I was, obviously, when I walked out of North Carolina State’s game,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after his team’s most one-sided ACC win of the season. “We’re getting there. They played with a little bit of maturity today.
“We’ve had leads and blown ‘em. Today they kept fighting even though they were up 16 or 18. I just thought our execution was great. I think we’re getting there. We’ll see. We have a much tougher one Tuesday on the road [at North Carolina].”
The day didn’t start promisingly for the Terps.
Four players – including leading scorer Dez Wells – were late for the team breakfast. Wells, the only starter, began the game on the bench. Coming off his signature moment since arriving in College Park last season – a game-winning 3-pointer against Miami on Wednesday - Wells wound up leading Maryland (13-9, 5-4) with 19 points.
Wells wouldn’t say how late he was, but acknowledged that he had made a mistake.
“Coming off the bench, I just have to be the same player, come in with energy, while I’m on the bench try to lead my team and be vocal and be a cheerleader for my guys because they would do it for me,” said Wells, who had started all but one game as a Terp. “I just want to return the favor in that aspect and be the best teammate I can be.”
Said Turgeon: “Coaching is much more than winning basketball games. So, you’ve got to teach kids lessons. Part of our guys’ problem up until this point is that we don’t listen very well, so this is a good learning experience. I thought Dez handled it well. Jake picked up an early foul [56 seconds into the game] so he got in right away.”
It was sophomore point guard Seth Allen who energized Maryland (13-9, 5-4 in the ACC) even more by playing his best game since coming back from a broken foot that sidelined him for more than two months. Allen finished with 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Asked if he thought it was his best game of the season, Allen didn’t even know his final stats. When a reporter told him, Allen said, “Yeah, that’s a pretty good stat line, but we won by 20 so everyone had a good game. I just want to focus on winning. We play North Carolina on the road. I want to beat them.”
Said Turgeon: “Like I said three weeks ago, Seth needs me on him every day. And there’s 10 weeks I wasn’t on him. Then he came back and his foot was hurting. It just takes time. Now he’s guarding. There’s a lot of guys who played well, but by him sharing the ball and running our stuff, it makes everybody feel like they’re a part of it, which is good.”
In sending Virginia Tech (8-13, 1-8) to its eighth-straight defeat, Maryland showed that it is starting to understand Turgeon’s relentless preaching about taking good shots and guarding ball screens. The Terps also shared the ball (15 assists) and took care of it (nine turnovers, two in the second half).
The Terps shot 29 of 56 overall, 8 of 15 on 3-pointers, and held the Hokies to 20 of 54 and four of 16 on 3-pointers. Senior forward Jarell Eddie, Virginia Tech’s top scorer at nearly 12 points a game, finished with just two points on 0-for-9 shooting. The Hokies played without their second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Adam Smith, and junior forward C.J. Barksdale.
Leading 43-35 at halftime, Maryland watched as Virginia Tech freshman guard Ben Emelogu (21 points) opened the second half with a 3-point shot. But unlike the game in Raleigh, N.C., that Turgeon said forced him to “turn into a real jerk” with his players, the Terps ratcheted up their defense and overwhelmed the hapless Hokies.
Maryland went on a 14-2 run and eventually built its lead up to 25 points.
The run was highlighted by a pair of dunks, the first when Layman drove the baseline and threw down a one-handed tomahawk slam over 6-foot-11 freshman Trevor Thompson and later when sophomore forward Charles Mitchell chugged his way to a breakaway slam.
“I didn’t know if he was going to get there,” Turgeon said of the 260-pound Mitchell.
Turgeon might have said the same thing about his team, considering how it has struggled to win more than two games in a row since winning three straight in late December and early January after a 2-0 start in the ACC.
The next two weeks will determine where the Terps will be mid-March. After going to North Carolina Tuesday, Maryland hosts Florida State Saturday and then goes back on the road against Virginia and Duke.
“There’s no question the next four games are the toughest part of our schedule, not that the last part’s going to be easy,” Turgeon said. “I feel good because I just want our team to look like they want to play together, that they like to play the game and they look like they’re coached. That’s important to me. I think we’re starting to play that way.”