Maryland basketball relies on its depth to squeak out close wins, and on Saturday night, it was backup point guard Jaylen Brantley who led the bench effort in a one-point win over Oklahoma State.
The junior scored 12 points—which tied the team-high before Melo Trimble reached 13 with two monumental free throws in the final seconds—on 4-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 3-for-3 performance at the foul line. Brantley added two rebounds, an assist and a steal in his 22 minutes of action, and his team rallied to win.
“We had no chance without him tonight, and he was terrific,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game.
A year after playing him just eight minutes per game, Turgeon had no hesitation closing the game out with Brantley on the floor.
“He was my option,” Turgeon said, “and he’s not afraid. His AAU team won a national championship and they never took him out of the game. The kid is a flat-out winner.”
Brantley’s three-point play with 3:07 remaining was one of the game’s pivotal plays, as it gave the Terps a 66-64 lead. He made another layup in traffic during Maryland’s rapid comeback from a 12-point deficit. This aggressiveness is a new sight for many fans, but those who see him in practice know what he’s capable of.
“He can score. A lot of people don’t know he can score,” Trimble said. “Just for him to go out there and showcase that was something that we all was excited to see.”
Trimble has encouraged Brantley to be more aggressive throughout the season, including this week. Brantley has also benefited from practicing against one of the country’s quickest guards, freshman Anthony Cowan.
“He helps a lot, most importantly in practice,” Brantley said. “Anthony picks me up 94 feet and I guard him just the same. We’re making each other better.”
The 12 points aren’t a career high; Brantley scored 14 against Princeton last season. But it’s only his fourth time scoring in double figures as a Terp, and neither of the previous three were in games this close (two came against non-Division I teams).
Brantley had a tough time carving out a role for himself on Maryland’s bench last season, his first in College Park after transferring from junior college. Although he was the team’s No. 2 point guard behind Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon often played as the team’s primary ballhandler, and it was Varun Ram coming in when the Terps needed a defensive stop.
Now in twice the minutes, Brantley has doubled his numbers with four points and two rebounds. That’s just the role Maryland needs him in.
“I’m really happy for him because when he first got here, he really struggled,” Turgeon said. “And he just stayed the course, he worked hard all summer, he had a great summer, great fall, and now it’s paying dividends for him.”
Maryland has three point guards in its rotation right now; Trimble and Cowan both have more prominent roles than Brantley. He’s been forced to play off the ball more, but still tries to be aggressive when the team does need him to handle it. That showed on Saturday.
“Tonight gives me a lot of confidence,” Brantley said. “It gives confidence in Coach Turgeon, to my teammates as well, and most importantly, me. So I think tonight was really a big stepping stone for me.”