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December 14, 2013

Terps hang on to top FAU

Slow starts have become as synonymous with Maryland basketball as leaky defense and questionable point guard play this year.

Through Maryland's first 10 games, Mark Turgeon has been forced to make lineup adjustments at halftime five times, typically inserting the always-energetic Charles Mitchell into the starting lineup to facilitate a sense of urgency in the second half.

Playing their second game in three nights, the Terps (7-4) were again sluggish at times on Saturday, but played well enough behind 22 points from Jake Layman to keep a feisty Florida Atlantic tram at bay. Maryland outlasted the Owls, 66-62, in a game they never trailed, but also never put away.

Layman rediscovered his shooting touch on Saturday to lead the way for the Terps. The sophomore's 22 came on 8-of-14 shooting and he drained 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. He added six rebounds and two blocks, one of which was a thunderous rejection at the rim that enthralled the Comcast Center crowd.

"We're coming off an emotional win, a game we had to win on Thursday," Turgeon said afterwards, referencing Maryland's 88-80 ACC-opening win at Boston College. "We didn't have an opportunity to practice here for this game because we were worried about legs."

The Terps seemed baffled by the Florida Atlantic zone in a first half in which they shot 35.3 percent, prompting Turgeon to again reshuffle his lineup. He opened the second half with Mitchell and the surging Jonathan Graham on the court, and the result was a more efficient offense.

While they scored 33 in both halves, Maryland shot just under 45 percent after halftime and racked up 11 of their 18 assists on the day. They moved the ball and penetrated the Owls' zone, opting against launching the contested shots from deep they seemed to prefer early on.

"We made an adjustment. We subbed Jon Graham and Charles in, so we had to run a certain zone offense and it worked," Turgeon said.

"It's nice to get layups instead of a guarded three. We talked about it, we talked about it during every timeout too but at halftime it helped to have a little more time to get your point across."

Layman did a little bit of everything in 35 minutes against Florida Atlantic. The overmatched Owls refused to die on Saturday, cutting a 13-point Maryland lead to two before half and then getting within three with 1:40 left after the Terps rebuilt a 12-point second half lead. Then, Layman finally killed them.

Ahead by three with under a minute left, Maryland shrewdly chose to run their offense until they got a good shot, milking the shot clock in the process. Nick Faust was able to penetrate into the lane, freeing Layman, who drained a triple with 37 seconds left that proved to be the dagger.

"I knew that it was a big situation," Layman said. "In big moments, Dez usually is our guy. But in my mind, I'm saying if I'm open I can make the shot."

After dropping 27 on Morgan State, Layman was invisible against Ohio State and has since struggled to find his shot. He had a pair of 13-point outings following the loss to the Buckeyes, but the deadly accuracy the sophomore sniper exhibited early in the season was missing, and he was forced to find other ways to score.

Until Saturday.

"I don't think he really thinks about it," Turgeon said. "I think he just thinks about that shot and he thinks he's going to make every shot. But the key was our execution. We used the clock, we ran a little ball screen action, and they found him."

Assists-to-turnover ratio has been a sticking point for Turgeon of late. The Terps were excellent in that regard on Saturday, notching 18 helpers against only nine giveaways. Faust and Roddy Peters each had five assists and Evan Smotrycz added four despite shooting 1-for-12 from the field.

Peters started but played only 19 minutes with Turgeon preferring the talents of Faust against the zone. Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare combined for 20 points and 10 rebounds down low. With 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, Saturday was far and away Cleare's best effort in what has been a disappointing season for the once-highly recruited sophomore.

"I'm pumped up about it but it's something I was supposed to be doing since early in the season," Cleare said. "It's a little disappointing for me, even though I had the 10 points, because I know I'm capable of doing this every game."

Worried about a letdown, Turgeon told his players that the Owls (3-8), who gave Boston College all they could handle in November, wouldn't go down without a fight. He was right.

"That BC win was a pretty draining win for us," Layman said. "We put a lot into that game. Coming in today, we knew we would have to grind it out."


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