COLLEGE PARK — Jake Layman was an important, if inconsistent, role player for most of his first two seasons at Maryland. Now, with seniors Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz sidelined because of injuries, the 6-foot-9 junior forward is being asked to play a bigger role for the Terps.
The question remains: How big?
As opponents become more focused on containing freshman point guard Melo Trimble — which North Carolina Central (6-3) will likely attempt to do Wednesday against No. 19 Maryland (8-1) — Layman finds himself with more scoring opportunities than at any point since becoming a Terp.
It happened Saturday in the second half against Winthrop and led to one of the most productive games of Layman's career. After missing his first four shots and scoring only a 3-pointer shortly before halftime, Layman finished with a season-high 21 points in Maryland's 82-62 victory.
What's most impressive is that more than half of Layman's points came from the free-throw line, where he made 11 of 14 attempts, career highs for each. It's a byproduct of Maryland coach Mark Turgeon moving Layman inside after Smotrycz got hurt, and Layman taking advantage of his athleticism and height.
"I think it's just [a matter of] being more aggressive, being more comfortable in the post," Layman said after a game in which he also had six rebounds, two blocks and two assists. "I think I showed tonight that I can do a lot of things down there. I think moving forward I'll be down there a little more to help us out."
Layman seems ready for the role of being a first or second scoring option. After showing flashes as a freshman (20 points in the first half of his first Atlantic Coast Conference game against Virginia Tech) and a sophomore (a career-high 27 against Morgan State), Layman has put up more consistent numbers this season.
He ranks third on the team in scoring (15.2 points per game) behind Trimble (16.6) and Wells (16.2). But he has scored in double figures in each of Maryland's first nine games and leads the Terps in rebounding (5.7 per game).
"I don't think it's really me looking at myself more as a go-to guy now, but I think within our offense we're going to go to me more, now that one of our scorers [Wells] is out," Layman said. "I think that's really the only difference for me."
Said Turgeon: "I think Jake's trying to take on a bigger role, but he's got to do it within our system. He's a very capable scorer. Jake just needs to let it come, and if he's hot, we'll run more things for him. We'll get him the ball."
The injuries to Smotrycz, who is trying to recover from a broken left foot and sprained left ankle, have necessitated Layman spending more time at the power forward position. In Maryland's new motion offense, Layman is being asked to post up more than he is asked to spot up for 3-point shots.
Though he has cooled off after starting the season making 20 of his first 28 shots from the field, Layman (53.2 percent overall) has improved his efficiency by driving to the basket for layups and dunks rather than settling for long jumpers.
His offense is only part of Layman's improvement. He is a more active defender, particularly in his effort showing for ball screens or closing in on opponents shooting from the outside. He goes after rebounds a lot harder than he did before.
"I think Jake's having a terrific year — rebounding, defense, shooting the ball," Turgeon said. "He's just more of a complete player, but I don't want him to feel that pressure that he has to take it on. Same way with Dez [when he gets back]. I said, 'You don't have to be the guy this year. You've got a lot of good players around you.'"
Having covered a few of Maryland's games this season, former Terp and current ESPN college basketball analyst Len Elmore said he saw something of a breakthrough for Layman in Maryland's victory over then-No. 13 Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.
Layman was beaten early a couple times by athletic guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and then he was pushed away for a rebound follow by burly 252-pound forward Daniel Edozie. As the Terps took control of the game in the second half, Layman began to be more assertive — and much more demonstrative — inside.
"I thought against Iowa State he had an awakening," Elmore said. "The kid Edozie was manhandling him, and all of a sudden he decided to fight back. [Layman] gave him a hard foul, he boxed him out and was fouled. He started to understand what it would take."
A year ago, Layman might not have recovered from the slow start in games the way he has this season.
"I think it's me being OK with missing a couple of shots. I know with our offense it will eventually come back to me, and I'll get those open shots again and again," Layman said. "It's just a matter of me being able to trust our offense."