The trip from College Park took less than an hour, but it was 16 years in the making. Maryland returned to Baltimore on Saturday the same way the Terps had left it in 1999, when Mark Turgeon was just starting his coaching career and Juan Dixon was becoming a star.
Royal Farms Arena seemed a bit more modern than in previous years, with a splashy new scoreboard and a near-sellout crowd. Turgeon's team wore some old-school white uniforms for its game with Princeton, but in an 82-61 victory, the No. 6 Terps seemed just as good as some of the teams Dixon played on at Maryland.
With senior forward Jake Layman scoring a season-high 19 points and reserve guard Jaylen Brantley adding all 14 of his career-best performance in the second half, the Terps overcame a six-point deficit midway through the first half and cruised to their 10th win in 11 games this season.
“What a great night in Baltimore,” said Turgeon, who was in his first head coaching job, at Jacksonville State the last time Maryland played in Baltimore. “We had 11,000 people. I thought the city really embraced us. Met a couple people before the game who said they couldn't get tickets for the Xfinity Center, so they got to come here and watch the guys play tonight. That was great. We've been wanting to do this for a while, and to play a really good opponent in Princeton and have a great first half — a close game — hopefully the people enjoyed it.”
Aside from Layman, who also had eight rebounds, junior forward Robert Carter finished with 12 points, while freshman center Diamond Stone scored 11 and grabbed six rebounds off the bench. Senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon finished with 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Sophomore point guard Melo Trimble, as he has often done this season, seemed content to set up his teammates. Trimble finished with 10 assists, two shy of tying a career high and the second time he's reached double figures in the past five games.
“I think that's what's special about this team,” said Layman, who made seven of 11 from the field, going 4-for-8 on 3-pointers. “On any given night, one guy can come up big for us. Tonight was, I guess, my night. The next game, I could score five points and somebody else could score 20. That's just how we work.”
The Terps now take off for Christmas break before returning next Sunday against Marshall at Xfinity Center.
The combination of Princeton's pack-in zone defense and 3-point shooting gave Maryland some early problems.
Mostly it was the Tigers hitting shots, including seven of their first 11 3-pointers to build a 25-19 lead with a little over six minutes left in the first half. The Terps adjusted, helped by both a half-court trap and a full-court press, as well as their own hot shooting, to avoid a potential fifth upset of a top-10 team Saturday -- No. 4 Kentucky, No. 5 Iowa State, No. 7 Duke and No. 9 Purdue all lost.
“Give Princeton a lot of credit. They made a lot of shots tonight,” Turgeon said of the now 6-3 Tigers, who were led by junior guard Henry Caruso's 17 points. “They were 3-for-16 from 3 in their last game and they made 11 [of 24] tonight. Give them credit, but we were really good. We were really good in the second half. I was really proud of our guys.”
Turgeon conceded that Princeton's 3-2 zone took the Terps by surprise.
“They haven't shown it all year; we didn't prepare for it,” Turgeon said. “It showed a little bit. Jake got us going, making some shots, and Diamond gave us energy off the bench — he did a terrific job. But I thought, the second half, I thought we were as good as we could be.”
A 16-2 run late in the first half gave Maryland a 35-27 lead on Layman's third 3-pointer of the half. With the big crowd energized and the Tigers taking two quick timeouts, the Terps couldn't capitalize as they failed to score on their last five possessions of the half and the Tigers cut their deficit to 35-31 at halftime.
“I was really disappointed with the last 3:36 offensively,” Turgeon said.
Just as Maryland did last week in its game against UMES, when the Terps kept the Hawks hanging around for a half, Turgeon's team came out hot to open the second half. The Terps used a 13-7 run to open up a 48-38 lead with a little over 15 minutes left.
The lead grew to 20 with 6:51 left during a stretch when Brantley, who had struggled since coming from a junior college in Texas, put on a Trimble-like burst of shooting and driving, hitting a pair of 3-pointers, scoring on a pair of scoop drives and hitting all six shots he took in the half.
The Terps did a better job of taking advantage of their size inside late in the first half and throughout the second half by going to Stone, Carter and even Layman once when the 6-foot-9 senior came flying in from the right baseline to take a perfect lob feed from Sulaimon that he finished with a dunk.
“Our whole offensive strategy was to play in the paint, and then they showed a 3-2 zone, and I thought we shot too many jumpers at the start,” Turgeon said. “I thought we kind of got used to it, put different guys at the high post. We really got it clicking in the second half. Guys shared the ball and we moved it quicker.”