COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Terps looked flat.
The 11 a.m. start may have had something to do with it, but Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon wasn’t about to use that as an excuse as UMD fell behind by seven points.
Taking on a game USC Upstate squad Dec. 13 at the Xfinity Center, the Terps just were not taking smart shots. But more unforgiveable was their lack of defensive intensity, the Spartans slicing clean through the lane for easy layups and putbacks.
Following a wide-open Fred Miller jumper at the 6:01 mark of the first half, Turgeon had seen enough, so the disgruntled headman shook his head and called a timeout.
But Turgeon didn’t need to do much berating.
Apparently freshman point guard Melo Trimble had him covered.
“I told [the team], 'We’re not playing our best,” Trimble said after practice Dec. 19 as the Terps prepared for their road game against Oklahoma State Dec. 21. “I said, ‘Our offense is going to be there, but our defense needs to pick up – it needs to get better.’ And [my teammates] listened to me -- we started picking it up on defense after I said that.”
Not exactly Knute Rockne, but coming from the normally reserved Trimble, the words held weight. Upstate hit exactly two more field goals the rest of the half as Maryland slowly gained control and came away with a 67-57 victory. Trimble, who was named Big Ten co-Freshman of the Week following the effort, posted his first career double-double, racking up 14 points and a dozen boards.
“[Trimble] is becoming more of a leader every day,” senior guard Richaud Pack said. “When he first got here he was kind of quiet, but he’s kind of talking to players a lot more than he did. He’s not shy about putting you in your place, letting you know where you should be offensively and defensively so you can benefit the team.”
And it doesn’t even matter that he’s a freshman.
“With the majority of the team, we don’t look at Melo as a freshman. He doesn’t carry himself as one. He’s very mature, high basketball IQ. Nothing, in my opinion, says, ‘That’s a freshman,’” Pack said. “It’s easy to follow a guy who leads by example and does the right thing.”
Trimble has been doing plenty of right things so far, but it’s that all-important leadership intangible where he’s made the most strides. The Upper Marlboro, Md., native said it’s really not in his nature to speak up, and his preference is to let his game do all the talking.
Which is exactly what he did – and continues to do – the first few games in 2014. But as Trimble began establishing himself, acclimating himself with his veteran teammates, his vocal chords came alive as well.
“I’m getting there, I’m getting better,” Trimble said. “At first I wasn’t as vocal, but I think my words mean something [when I do talk], because my teammates really listen to me.”
True statement, according to junior Jake Layman, who said Trimble carries himself like an upperclassman. The forward suggested the respect the young point guard commands has more to do with his poise and work ethic than merely the nature of the point guard position.
“He matured for us very fast, which he had to coming in,” Layman said. “He’s handled everything very well and we trust him in every situation, running our offense and defense too. It’s been great playing with him so far.”
Layman can say that again. With Trimble running the show, the Massachusetts product is averaging 15.4 points per game.
But Trimble's got him beat.
Befitting of a McDonald’s All-American and a Bob Cousy Watch List member, Trimble is averaging 15.8 points per game (second to Dez Wells), 4.1 rebounds, three assists and 1.2 steals.
Turgeon warned preseason not to heap too many expectations on the newcomer, but Trimble, aside from a couple missteps, has pretty much aced his first-semester exam.
“I didn’t. I honestly didn’t think I’d be playing this well,” Trimble said. “I expected the team to win, but I didn’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing. But just coming to every practice, every game with the mindset of winning … I’m getting better.”
The numbers alone tell only part of the story. Take away the points; take away the rebounds; take away the assists -- it’s Trimble’s poise up top that’s special.
And at the most demanding position on the floor at that.
Trimble was tested end to end by Iowa State, pressured by Virginia’s pack-line defense, zoned to death by Monmouth and run up and down by Arizona State. But through it all he never flinched, remaining almost unshakeable.
“I kind of expected it out of him. I think I’d be surprised if he didn’t play with poise, because he always does and always has since I’ve been watching him the last four years,” Turgeon said. “Nothing he does surprises me. He continues to get better, be a better leader and a better point guard for our team.”
“He’s just been doing unbelievable,” Layman said. “His poise is amazing. His offensive ability, nobody can guard him right now. I’m excited for him that’s he’s playing so well, and I think the coaches are happy to have him.”
Speaking of poise, Trimble’s shown plenty of that at the foul line too. The Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.) product has connected on 78 of 87 free-throw attempts, an 89.7 percent clip that leads the Big Ten and ranks among the nation’s elite. On two occasions, against ASU and Monmouth, Trimble finished 13-of-14 from the line.
“It could be better,” Trimble deadpanned. “I always want to get better on my free throws. I’m here before practice shooting free throws, after practice shooting free throws – just always practicing them.
“But it’s big for me to hit them. I don’t know how I’m getting [to the line so often], but when I do get there I want to hit them. I just know if I stay patient and run the offense, good things will happen.”
Turgeon attributed Trimble’s foul-line prowess, and more specifically his ability to reach said line, to his smarts and strength. The headman explained that Trimble is typically bigger and more physical than his counterparts, allowing him to drive the lane and initiate contact. Turgeon also said Maryland’s motion offense, complete with floor spacing, gives Trimble truck-sized lanes to slice through.
And with more and more defenders respecting Trimble’s shot by guarding him tightly, the freshman’s had plenty of blow-by opportunities.
“The great thing about Melo is he’s a big-time shooter, and he kind of is taking what the defense gives him. Right now [defenders are] pressuring him, taking the shot away, and he’s making them pay for that,” Turgeon said. “It’s been good for our team, because he’s good at it, and hopefully he continues.”
Trimble’s stroke isn’t reserved just for the free-throw line, either. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range, the former statistic ranking the best in the Terps’ backcourt.
While he’s been known for his deadeye shot since high school, one of the main reasons Trimble’s executing this year is his ability to come off ball screens and nail open looks. He said he spent all summer practicing rubbing off screens, taking passes in stride, and firing up deep jumpers a split second later.
“It’s become a bigger part of my game,” Trimble said. “But I’m used to just coming off the ball screen and looking for a screen on my man. But as I’ve become more patient, I’m finding other guys [to pass to], especially off the pick-and-pop.”
Granted, it hasn’t all been roses for Trimble this year. Trimble shot just 32 percent his first three games, and finished 2-of-9 against UVA as well.
In fact, Trimble admitted he came into the campaign pressing to prove his reputation as a “money” shooter. He said it took him a couple weeks to settle down and play within himself.
“Coming of out of high school I was used to being the guy that had to get the shots up,” Trimble said. “But coming here, Coach Turgeon, he was a point guard himself, he just tells me, ‘Just relax. Just because you’re not getting up shots doesn’t mean you’re not a good player or not helping us win.’ He just keeps telling me to stay patient, and so far I have.
“But, honestly, I can do better with every part of my game -- offense, defense and being a leader. I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
Trimble certainly has a learning experience coming up. Maryland faces a tough Oklahoma State squad Dec. 21 in the Cowboys’ raucous home arena, and nine days after that the Terps take on the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.
It’s a daunting task, for sure, but don’t think for a second this freshman will cower.
“I’m just going to keep playing my game. I have confidence, and I know my teammates are going to pick me up if I ever do hit the wall,” Trimble said. “I’m not going to let anything effect the way I play. I’m going to continue to get better and help the team win.”
Trimble's Not Trippin'
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