Sophomore Jake Layman has been their best player. Charles Mitchell's been their best big man. Freshman Roddy Peters has been a human lightning rod four games into the season. But at some point, if the Terrapins plan on taking their act to March this year, Mark Turgeon's upperclassmen are going to have to do some of the heavy lifting.
That was exactly what happened on Sunday night. Evan Smotrycz, Dez Wells and Nick Faust combined for 53 points as the Terps (3-2) topped Northern Iowa 80-66 to advance to the title game of the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, where they will play the winner of La Salle and Providence on Monday night at 9 p.m. ET.
The trio of juniors shot just under 36 percent four games into a disappointing 2-2 start for the Terps, leading many to call for Turgeon to shake up his rotation. He complied in Friday night's tournament opener, inserting Peters into his starting lineup, but the coach went back to his original five on Sunday night and his veterans responded admirably in what was the most complete game of the season for Maryland.
Smotrycz tied his career high with 20 points and added nine rebounds. Maryland didn't connect on a single trey in the first half but still went into halftime with a three-point lead. Smotrycz caught fire in the second half; hitting three shots from behind the arc to help inflate the Terps lead to double-digits.
The Panthers wouldn't go away, but they never got closer than four after the opening moments of the second half. Faust kept Maryland afloat early as Northern Iowa stormed out to a 7-0 lead. The junior, whose has struggled with shot selection issues throughout his career, easily had his most efficient game of the year, notching 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting and snatching three steals on the defensive end.
Meanwhile, Wells looked like his old self in the first half, slashing his way to 10 points by halftime and finishing with 16, six assists and six rebounds on the night. In all, the trio drained 21-of-37 shots from the field. Layman also had another big game with 19 points, seven of which came from the charity stripe. Layman is quickly emerging as one of the most improved players in the country.
The Terps shot over 48 percent from the floor despite getting next to nothing from their interior players on the offensive end. Shaquille Cleare went scoreless and only grabbed two boards while Charles Mitchell shot one-for-five from the field and added four rebounds.
A team that relies on the three, Northern Iowa started cold and eventually got going, but Terps defenders made it tough on them throughout the night. The Panthers shot 38.6 percent from the field and 7-for-29 from beyond the arc. The Terps have allowed 54.5 points per game in the two games following last Sunday's debacle against Oregon State. They allowed just less than 70 points per contest in their first three games.