Maryland didn't trail all game, but they certainly cut it close against an upstart Florida Atlantic team in a win Saturday afternoon. Jake Layman scored 22, the Terps showed better ball movement and a strong interior presence, and survived with a 66-62 win at Comcast Center.
Florida Atlantic's first six possessions netted three missed shots and three missed turnovers, and it looked like Maryland was going to have an easy time of things against the Owls in College Park, jumping out to a 22-9 lead. Florida Atlantic came back with a roaring end to the first half, repeatedly getting to the line and making some three pointers to bring the score to 33-31 at halftime.
Maryland was able to change the game back around at the beginning of the second half, as Dez Wells began to drive to the hoop and the Terps moved their focus to the inside game after a poor shooting effort in the first half. Charles Mitchell hit a mid-range jumper (!) and Shaquille Cleare made some nice post moves for baskets (!!!) to overcome some poor decision making by the Terps on the offensive end. However, the talent gap was the difference -- as much as Maryland turned the ball over, Florida Atlantic turned it over more -- and the Terps were able to bully their way inside for much of the game.
The Terps killed the Owls on the boards (especially on the offensive glass, with 23), and while each team struggled to consistently hit shots, Maryland had plenty of more opportunities. The biggest second half adjustment (besides the change in offensive focus) came on the defensive end -- Maryland stopped fouling, and the inefficient Florida Atlantic offensive stopped getting easy points.
The ball movement for Maryland was much improved, even from the victory over Boston College. The Terrapins had a very high assist rate, and it especially paid dividends in the inside game, where Cleare had one of his best games as a Terp. Roddy Peters and Nick Faust repeatedly drove inside to split defenders before tossing it off to either Cleare or Mitchell, who were able to convert on the easy layup opportunities. Maryland had assists on nearly three-quarters of their buckets, with Peters and Faust each contributing five.
Florida Atlantic made a 13-5 run to bring the score to 60-56 with under three minutes to play, and Layman drove to the hoop and made a bucket, but then gave the ball away on the next possession for an FAU basket and foul. Pablo Bertone made the free throw, making it 62-59. Layman made up for his error, making a three pointer and expanding the lead to six.
Evan Smotrycz had a very strange day, struggling at his strengths (1-12 from the floor) but doing fine with weaknesses (just two fouls, seven rebounds). Layman hit eight of his 14 shots, while Wells, Cleare and Mitchell each scored ten.