Maryland's 18-point lead was nearly gone with a little over a minute left Friday against South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. More significantly for the fifth-seeded Terps, so was their floor leader.
As sophomore point guard Melo Trimble took a seat on the bench after fouling out with 1:03 to go, the angst among the Maryland fans that had made the cross-country trek to Spokane Arena was palpable.
Fortunately for the Terps, senior forward Jake Layman took on the role normally played by Trimble — closer — and helped lead Maryland into the second round with a 79-74 victory over the 12th-seeded Jackrabbits.
Layman finished with 27 points, including 17 in the second half, to tie his career high. A pair of free throws by Layman with 18 seconds left gave Maryland (26-8) a five-point lead that the Terps nearly gave away.
"It was tough having him on the bench," Layman said of Trimble, who had scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half, when Maryland built its lead to 12. "I'm proud of our guys to step up like that and make free throws."
Some of the biggest free throws Maryland made came with Trimble still in the game, and South Dakota State mounting a comeback from a 64-46 deficit with 8:49 left. Two fouls drew loud boos from a crowd that was pulling for the underdogs.
The Terps were bailed out twice by the referees, once when sophomore wing Jared Nickens (14 points off the bench) was fouled as the 30-second shot clock was about to expire and then when Trimble could have been called for his fifth with 2:33 to go.
South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy refused to blame the officials.
"They explained to us at the beginning of the year that they were going to call it tight," Nagy said. "Every coach is going to agree and disagree and those calls were not the reason we lost the game. Of all the people in the gym, that's the last job I would want."
Asked if he talked to his players about some of the upsets of higher-seeded teams in the tournament, including fourth-seeded Cal's loss to Hawaii and second-seeded Michigan State's loss to 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said it never was a factor.
"We don't ever talk about losing," Turgeon said. "We talk about winning and advancing. We knew about [Thursday's] upsets. We have been kind of locked in. … The pressure, you can't really describe what these kids have to play through."
While Layman made all eight of his free throws and the Terps converted 24 of 27 for the game, the most pressure-packed foul shots might have been shot by Trimble's backup, little-used sophomore Jaylen Brantley, with 12 seconds to go.
After South Dakota State guard Deondre Parks (22 points) had cut Maryland's lead to two points with 13 seconds remaining by converting three straight free throws on a foul by senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, Brantley was fouled on the inbounds pass.
Having taken just two free throws — making both — in the past two months and only 12 (making eight) all season, Brantley said, "That was the most pressure I ever had in my life, the biggest free throws I've ever shot, not even close."
That could also describe Brantley's first attempt, which skimmed the rim and ricocheted hard off the backboard. Somehow, the junior college transfer calmed himself down and made the second cleanly.
Brantley then combined with Sulaimon on what turned out to be a game-saving, season-saving defensive play, forcing backup point guard Keaton Moffitt — inserted after fellow senior George Marshall had fouled out — to pick up his dribble and pass in the waning seconds.
"I think Jaylen did a great job of putting pressure on the ball," Layman said of his former Amateur Athletic Union teammate in Boston. "You've got to give him a lot of credit for his defense on that play. And Rasheed came in, poked it and got the steal."
Sulaimon's steal and dunk sealed the victory for the Terps, who move on to the second round for the second straight year. Maryland, which has won 12 straight NCAA tournament openers, will play No. 13 seed Hawaii at 7:10 p.m. on Sunday. The Rainbow Warriors upset No. 4 seed Cal, 77-66, earlier in the day.
Calling his foul on Parks a "dumb bonehead mistake," Sulaimon said his steal and dunk was set up by Brantley's defense.
"When I saw the opportunity to seal the win for my team and I just jumped at it and tried to help continue to extend our season," Sulaimon said
Layman, criticized throughout his career for not being aggressive, was the reason the Terps will play for a chance to go to their first Sweet 16 in 13 years and erase the ghosts of an agonizing second-round loss to Michigan State six years ago, also in Spokane.
A year after taking just one shot from the field and scoring four points in a three-point win over No. 13 seed Valparaiso in his first career NCAA tournament game, Layman hit seven of 11 shots overall and five of eight 3-point attempts. His made 3s tied a school NCAA tournament record.
Asked the difference between opening-round games, Layman said, "More mature, confident player. I'm trying to play with better pace now. I think I'm playing well."
Said Turgeon, "The last four weeks he's gotten a lot more aggressive and he's just so confident in shooting the basketball. He was terrific today. We needed every point and every defensive play."
From his seat on the bench after fouling out for the first time in his college career, Trimble, Maryland's floor leader, told Brantley to be ready and the rest of the Terps on the floor in the final minute to take over.
"It was tough to be on the bench at the end of the game," Trimble said. "I normally like to shoot the last free throws to end the game. But I trusted Jake and Rasheed and the rest of the guys that was on the floor to end the game."
And end the angst, too.