SPOKANE, Wash. -- Maybe it was the Jordan-esque shrug as he got hot in the Big Ten tournament against Nebraska. Maybe it was the jawing with Eron Harris and Denzel Valentine in a hard-fought defeat the next night at the hands of Michigan State.
Whatever it was, you should know by now that something is different about Jake Layman of late. He showed it again on Friday, tying a career high by pouring in 27 points on 7-of-11 shooting and hitting all eight of his free throws to keep a foul-burdened Maryland team afloat in a 79-74 victory over South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Spokane.
As the Jackrabbits did all they could to shut down point guard Melo Trimble and throw bodies at big men Robert Carter, Jr. and Diamond Stone, they simply could not handle every single offensive threat that Maryland puts on the floor.
“Let’s face it,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said after the game. “I mean, here we are leaving a 6-9 tremendous shooter, great body, great athlete, we’re having to leave him open because their post are unbelievable, their point guard is unbelievable.
“So, yeah, it is pick your poison and he’s the one who probably won the game for them. He hit some big shots and made big plays for them.”
Off of guard penetration or kickouts from bigs, Layman made his living in the corner. Both he and sophomore Jared Nickens feasted from three in a spot that turned out to be one of the few weak spots on the floor for the Jackrabbits defensively.
But Layman still had to take the shots once he caught the passes. And make the shots. For comparison, in last year's first-round game against Valparaiso, Layman attempted just one shot from the field. He missed it.
Friday? Twenty-seven points on just 11 shots from the field.
“I got to give Melo and Rasheed a lot of credit for that,” Layman said of the guards' ability to set him up. “They did a great job of driving and finding me on the wing in the corner. I was playing with confidence today, shot felt good.”
On a night when both Stone and Carter had four fouls and Trimble fouled out in the second half, someone had to steer the ship to port late as South Dakota State made tough shot after tough shot or was bailed out by careless Maryland fouls on the perimeter.
It was Layman.
His two free throws with 0:42 to play made a two-point game into a four-point game. Two more with 0:18 to play made a three-point game into a five-point game. Maryland would eventually close it out.
Layman said earlier this week that he wanted to leave Maryland after his senior season with no regrets. He shouldn’t have any after Friday’s performance.