COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Dez Wells dribbled through the Minnesota defense as the final seconds wound down and a big Xfinity Center crowd stood up and cheered.
The 12th-ranked Terrapins ran off their seventh win in a row, this one in a memorable 70-58 victory over Minnesota in the Big Ten Conference home opener. And while the ball ended up in the senior Wells’ hands at the end, this game was again so very much on the shoulders of freshman Melo Trimble.
The freshman point guard didn’t back down against constant pressure on the ball all over the court and in another big game environment highlighted by a loud Maryland crowd. They had reason to exult as the Terrapins moved to their best start since 1996-97, and Trimble again nailed down the victory with free throws down the stretch.
“We have a lot of confidence in Melo and his mind for the game and just his game itself,” said Wells. “Once he gets the ball and if it’s just a single, man-to-man full-court press, we’ll just clear out and let him take the ball.”
Coach Mark Turgeon has a world of confidence, too, in the freshman from Upper Marlboro, Md. Look at the last three big games and the minutes played part of Melo’s line: 37 minutes at Oklahoma State, 41 at Michigan State and 37 against Minnesota.
The Terrapins (14-1, 2-0) pushed tempo all day and while they had 19 turnovers, they were efficient enough offensively (42 percent shooting), stifling at times defensively (33.8 percent shooting allowed) and strong on the boards with a 44-35 rebounding edge.
Oh, yeah, and they hit free throws.
Maryland, which led the nation coming in with 269 free throws made, canned 20-of-28 on this afternoon before a season-high 15,788 home fans. Trimble, on his way to 20 points, was again the ringleader with 9-of-13 shooting at the line, including 6-of-9 in the second half to stave off Minnesota (11-4, 0-2). Maryland was 17-of-24 as a team at the line in the final 20 minutes, part of another concentrated Terrapin effort to get to the stripe.
“That’s what we do,” said coach Mark Turgeon, who was pleased with the team’s defense but is still looking for improvement, particularly after one rugged first half stretch where he said the team let its “offense affect the defense,” and Minnesota stormed back from a 15-point deficit.
The Golden Gophers can do such things, often with ease, coming in shooting a Big Ten best .424 from 3-point range. Trimble and his long-armed compatriots on the perimeter held the Gophers to 3-of-22 shooting behind the arc (13.6 percent) and 0-of-11 in the second half.
“We switched ball screens instead of hedging out,” said Trimble. “In the second half we started digging off our players more (to try to shut down Minnesota inside) and not stand so close to the shooters.”
Turgeon adjusted his defense to Minnesota’s diversified style in-game but the defense got a big lift from sophomore center Damonte Dodd’s play – 9 points, career-high 12 rebounds and three blocks – and the Terrapins blocked nine total shots, the most since 10 rejections versus VMI on Nov. 30.
“We would rather trade twos than give up threes with this team,” said Turgeon. “They’re a really good shooting team.”
The Terrapins held Minnesota to a season-low 58 points.
“We’re learning that we’re a defensive-based team,” said Dodd, who played 20 minutes before fouling out at 1:07. “If we play defense, we’re talented enough on the offensive end that not too many teams can hang with us.”
Along with Trimble and Wells, Layman got into double-figures with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and he had six rebounds. Turgeon praised his defense, too. Dodd’s nine points equaled his career high and he was even more efficient, 3-of-3 from the field.
Turgeon said Dodd has been coming on in practices. “(Dodd) is playing with a lot of confidence. The offense is just an addition to what he does on defense.”
The Terrapins needed those contributions against a Big Ten bruiser that wanted to bully Maryland. Minnesota seemed determined to make the game more physical – pounding the ball inside on the offensive end and just pounding on the defensive end.
“It was getting more physical as the game went on,” said Trimble, who was knocked to the floor several times. “We like the physical play because it makes us play better and not be laid back.”
The Terrapins were at their best, though, getting into the open court, which they did early in the second half to again open up a working margin. Maryland had a three-point edge but went on a key 9-0 spree.
Trimble drove baseline, was fouled and hit both free throws, to start the run. Wells hit one of two on the ensuing possession and then Maryland got another big play from Dodd, the long-armed center blocking a shot and triggering a fastbreak with Trimble scoring. Layman was called for a charge but scored on the drive and the Terrapin lead was back to 10 points.
When Wells hit one of his patented hook shots in close it was 47-35 with 13:50 to play. The Maryland defense held Minnesota to just one field goal in the first seven minutes. The Golden Gophers dug the hole, hitting just one of eight shots and Maryland, with a boost from hustling Jon Graham off the bench, grabbed 11 of the first 13 rebounds in the second half. Graham had five rebounds and a block in nine minutes.
Given the growing physical nature of the contest, the Terrapins went into the bonus at 10:47 of the second half, and Minnesota joined them less than a minute later. Neither team got to the free throw bonus in a brisk first half.
The Gophers had trouble getting closer than seven points after the Maryland run-out. The two teams traded a lot of free throws over the next few minutes. Carlos Morris hit two to make it 53-46 with 8:41 to play. Minnesota seemed to have a key stop when Trimble missed a three at the shot clock horn but Wells snuck inside for two stickback attempts, nailing the second one.
Wells then forced Morris into a miss at the other end, and he would cap off the possession hitting two free throws for a 57-46 lead at 7:27.
Morris scored on a drive and after Richaud Pack hit one of two free throws, Maurice Walker scored inside to make it 58-51at 5:47. Walker, who got 12 of his 20 points in the first half, sat more in the second half and was slowed by Dodd and Graham and Trimble and the other guards digging down on more double-teams.
Trimble hit three of four free throws on two possessions, fouled in the backcourt twice as Minnesota kept a withering press on the Terrapins. It was 61-51 at 5:16, and the Golden Gophers didn’t have another run in them.
After a timeout, Trimble fed Layman for a three at the top of the key on a set play, Maryland’s lead to 66-54 with just 2:54 remaining. Minnesota would never get closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“I don’t think we’re playing as well as we can play,” said Turgeon. “We are playing well, but we have to get more of a rotation and we need to play more of a complete game while remaining consistent.”
The Terrapins hung on to a 36-33 halftime lead, Dodd coming up big with nine points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocks. Maryland had led by 15 points before a Minnesota rally led by Walker, who had six points during a 13-0 run. When Morris canned a three on the break, the Gophers were down just 32-30 at 2:36.
Trimble made a great play on a drive, somehow getting a basket over and around the 6-10 Walker to end a Maryland drought of six minutes and 22 seconds, when the Gopher press and poor shot selection – too many threes – hurt the Terps.
Dodd got a steal, jumping around Walker to start a fastbreak, and he got a layup in transition from Wells at 41.6 seconds to make it 36-30. Minnesota’s King hit a 3-pointer just before the halftime horn.
Turgeon said he started talking to his team about drawing fouls during a timeout in the stretch when Minnesota made the run. “We talked about relaxing and playing better at the half, and in the second half we still played really well by getting to the line and shooting less three-pointers.
Maryland was 7-of-19 from 3-point range in the first half.
Maryland used a 12-0 run midway through the half to open a working margin. The Terrapins held Minnesota without a field goal for four minutes and 22 seconds. The Golden Gophers missed five straight shots, two free throws and had a turnover during that span.
“We’re a team that plays in spurts offensively,” said Turgeon “We had that one real good spurt, build the lead up to 15, and hung on from there.”
Dion Wiley hit a 3-pointer to start the run, Pack hit another and then Layman scored on a give-and-go with Wells. Dodd, enjoying his best offensive half at Maryland, hit two free throws and then his stickback at 7:03 made it 32-17.
But that would be Maryland’s last basket until Trimble’s bold drive with under a minute left.
“We just have to get better on offense,” said Trimble. “Offense is going to come with our defense.”
The Terrapins hit four of their first seven shots in startling contrast to the epically slow offensive start at Michigan State. When Wells hit a baseline 3-pointer at 16:08, Maryland led 12-7. Trimble and Layman also hit early threes but Minnesota kept pace with strong inside play from Walker and Morris. When Walker got a stickback at 15:43, the Gophers were back within two points.
Morris had 18 points but was just 7-of-21 (2-of-10) from the field.
Pack and Evan Smotrycz each had six points for the Terrapins, who return to action Wednesday at Illinois, and then play at Purdue on Jan. 10. The next home game is Jan. 14 against Rutgers.
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