The feeling Jaylen Brantley had playing basketball in high school in Springfield, Mass., and for a two-time Amateur Athletic Union national champion that featured included several future NBA players has returned.

The numbers might not be staggering, but back-to-back career-high 22-minute performances have resulted in the 5-foot-11 junior guard becoming a significant role player for the first time since joining the Terps last season.

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After scoring 12 points off the bench in last Saturday's 71-70 win over Oklahoma State, Brantley tied his career high of 14 points — first set last season against Princeton at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore — in a 79-56 win over Howard on Wednesday night.

It came after Brantley had scored just 24 points in Maryland's first eight games, with nearly half of them coming against Division III St. Mary's.

"I'm just trying to get back to how I used to play and how coach [Mark] Turgeon knows how I'm capable of playing," Brantley said after the Howard game. "I think off of Saturday's game, [it] gave me a lot of confidence to come out here and just play free."

Brantley hopes to keep that feeling going when Maryland (9-1) hosts St. Peter's (4-4) in a noon game Saturday at Xfinity Center.

A year after Turgeon often used defensive-minded former walk-on Varun Ram as the team's first guard off the bench, Brantley has surged past redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley — who is still trying to get his game back after missing last season with a knee injury — behind starters Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan.

"I think confidence means a lot, but me just being more comfortable has helped me a lot. I feel like I belong now. Last year, I didn't feel like I belonged," Brantley said. "My teammates keep giving me even more confidence, so I'm playing a lot better."

Asked how he feels more invested in the team's success than he did a year ago, Brantley said, "Helping the team in whatever aspect they need me to. If Coach wants me to go in and just play defense, I'll go in and play defense. If he wants me to try to make a shot, I'll do that as well."

Brantley, who hit four of the eight 3-pointers he attempted against Howard, knows there's a more intangible role he must play to get minutes.

"Me playing as hard as I can is really going to keep me on the court," Brantley said. "Our main thing about our team is defense. If I just keep playing hard defensively, offense will come. Me playing harder is just going to keep me playing better."

Recalling his own career as a small but gritty point guard at Kansas, Turgeon said he told Brantley, "'At your height, you've got to play harder than everybody', and that's really what he's doing."

Not only has Brantley played harder, he has gone from barely saying a peep to rarely keeping thoughts to himself.

Cowan said that as a freshman he looks up to Brantley, not only because of a five-year age difference, but "you can tell the leadership is there with him. He's always the loudest in the gym and always trying to help you."

It is possibly the most noticeable part of Brantley's improvement from his freshman year, a season that was several years in the making. After the former four-star prospect finished high school in Springfield, he spent one year at Notre Dame (Mass.) Prep, one year redshirting at Marshall and one year at a junior college in Texas before finally arriving at Maryland.

Before the season began, Brantley acknowledged that moving from junior college to Division I was "really a big jump."

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"The game's a lot faster, players are a lot stronger, players are a lot better," Brantley said. "Coaching is very different than in JuCo. In JuCo, you have two coaches. Here, you have five, everything you do is critiqued. That's really helped me a lot."

Until recently, the most attention Brantley received since coming to Maryland was for being one of the two stars, along with fellow junior Jared Nickens, of the "Running Man Challenge" videos that went viral. Their videos that started a dance craze picked up a reported 10 million views and got the two Terps invitations to "The Ellen Show" and "The ESPYs" last spring.

"The spring was really fun. I got to do things that I never thought I would ever get to do in a million years," Brantley said on media day in October. "That was fun while it lasted. Me and Jared are ready for this season and [to] show everyone that we've been in the gym as well. Put that to rest. I'm here for basketball, not for the rest."

While Nickens has struggled with his shot and his confidence, Brantley is suddenly becoming a crowd favorite at Xfinity Center, like the iconically popular Ram with a more reliable jump shot. One of Brantley's teammates has seen a big difference from last season.

"He was new to the team. I guess he didn't feel it was his place to talk," junior guard Melo Trimble said Friday. "This year, he's been around the block. We all know what Jaylen can do and he's shown us in practice he can really be a good player for this team and another leader."

Said Turgeon: "He's actually a little more than I envisioned. I saw him as a shooter and kind of a leader, and he's been a really good defender for us and a great team defender and [has] a great feel for the game. He's learned how to work hard and because he's worked so hard, he gained confidence."

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