COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Early during Melo Trimble’s freshman year at Maryland a media member, who was writing an extended feature story, asked, casually, what the star point guard’s favorite off-the-court activity was. Trimble paused for a brief second before deciding on a rather curious, although hilarious, answer. Something to the effect of, “I kind of like to look at myself in the mirror and make sure my hair looks nice.”
Thus begot Trimble’s signature blonde-frosted ‘do, which he insists to this day was his own idea. Certainly, Trimble did not copy the look from New York Giants standout Odell Beckham Jr., the point guard suggesting perhaps the receiver stole the look from him.
Turns out Trimble wasn’t done taking shots at Beckham. On Jan. 11, two days after canning a last-second, game-winning triple that broke Twitter, Trimble jokingly questioned why it was Beckham’s teammate, Victor Cruz, who offered up a social-media shout-out rather than Beckham himself.
“It was nice to have Victor say that; I appreciate that,” said Trimble of Cruz’ comment that the UMD sophomore was ‘the best point guard in college basketball.’ “He’s on the same team as another guy I like, Odell Beckham, who didn’t say anything … I’m kind of calling [Beckham] out to watch some of my games (laughs). But I still respect his game.”
Trimble’s well on his way to winning wide-spread national respect, regardless if Beckham’s paying attention or not. The 3-pointer at Wisconsin Jan. 9, sealing a 63-60 Maryland (15-1, 4-0 Big Ten) victory, was just the latest exploit in the floor general’s brief college career.
But, surprisingly enough, it was Trimble’s very first game-winning shot. Ever.
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, who has seen Trimble nail clutch jumpers since his sophomore year at Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.), couldn’t believe it either.
“It just adds to Melo’s legend,” said Turgeon, who likes to refer to emotional last-second victories as ‘locker-room huggers.’ “Melo did what he does. He was feeling good about himself; he had a great last nine minutes [against Wisconsin].
“But I didn’t love the shot; maybe [he could have been] a couple feet closer (laughs). But he knew what he was doing.”
With the game tied at 60, Trimble noticed Wisconsin drop into a zone, presumably to cut off any driving lanes. But even before examining the defense, the sophomore already had an idea he’d be jacking up a three -- even though the Terps needed a mere free-throw to seal the game.
“My last three shots I missed, but I felt like they were on-line. I just had confidence my next one would go, so I shot the 3,” said Trimble, who mentioned that he’s healthy and feeling no ill-effects from a hamstring injury that limited him Jan. 6 against Rutgers. “I was surprised I took the shot from that deep. I can’t believe I didn’t air-ball it. I knew [the defender] was a bit surprised I shot it from where I shot it, but I felt that’s the best look we could get at the time.
“But Coach Turgeon didn’t call a timeout, and I knew he wanted me to take the last shot. I just did what I worked on during the offseason, and I’m happy I made the shot.”
Following the crowd-silencing buzzer beater, Trimble admitted he didn’t quite know how to react. After all, he’d never hit a game-ender before.
Maybe he should have asked teammate Robert Carter, who claims to have hit “a whole bunch” of sealers during his career.
Not that Carter was calling for the ball during that last possession.
“Melo’s a great player, he’s a leader on this team, and everyone expected him to make that shot. And if he didn’t, someone’s expected to clean it up,” Carter said. “But we all had trust in Melo. He put in the time in practice to make that shot, and he did. I was so happy for him, his first game-winner.”
Trimble definitely puts in the time, but it’s comments like Carter’s that spur him. He said without his teammates’ support he wouldn’t be able to carry the same cool, collected, ice-water-in-the-veins demeanor into any kind of pressure situation.
“I think my teammates rely on me at the end of games,” Trimble said. “I think that’s where I get confidence from. Rasheed’s [Sulaimon] always telling me to bring it home, and Rob [Carter], Jake [Layman] -- they expect me to make plays.”
The Terps are an astounding 15-1 in games decided by six points or less the last two years, much of that a direct result of Trimble’s late-game prowess. When the All-American isn’t knocking down 3s, finishing at the rim or converting free throws to put foes away, he’s setting up the offense; actively facilitating; starting a fast break; and hitting the glass defensively. Not to mention that ever-present coolness factor, which has an incalculable effect on his teammates.
“I think Melo has a lot to do with [being 15-1],” said Turgeon, noting he wasn’t concerned with Trimble’s 35 minutes of floor time Jan. 9 since the point guard was relatively fresh after playing sparingly against Rutgers Jan. 6. “I think free-throw shooting has a lot to do with it, and defending and rebounding when the game’s on the line … I think we have good kids that want to win, and we kind of run a system where it forces you to pass the ball and be unselfish, and you take advantage of certain situations. But I think our guard play, Melo and Rasheed, take what comes to them and make guys better. … It’s a fight every day to get guys to play together offensively and defensively, but so far we’ve been great.
“But I don’t know yet. I work on half-court, late-game situations every day because I know we’re going to start having them. We were lucky to win that [Wisconsin] game. We had a nice enough lead and held on. But a month from now, ask me the same question.”
If the latter part of Turgeon’s statement sounds ominous, it’s because he knows the rigors ahead. In the immediate future, it’s a second straight Big Ten road game against Michigan, forcing Maryland to fly to the Midwest less than 72 hours after returning from Madison, Wisc.
The last time Maryland had back-to-back road bouts that required flights, in 2014-15 against Illinois and Purdue, the Terps stayed in Champaign, Ill., an extra day before trekking over to West Lafayette, Ind. This time around, however, Turgeon elected to bring his boys back to College Park in-between games.
“We looked at [staying in the Midwest], but we just thought with the noon game [against Wisconsin] it was better to come home and sleep in our own beds,” Turgeon said. “It’s a tough stretch for us … but we had time to recover. It was a little more expensive [flying back home], but I think it will be better for our team.”
Count Carter as appreciative.
“We got to come home, be where we’re comfortable, get treatment, recover and get ready to get back on the road,” said Carter, who believes he’s taken a major stride forward defensively of late. “It was good to come back home.”
The Terps had better be rested, because the schedule gets a bit more dicey. On Jan. 12, Maryland will arrive at the Crisler Center for a game against a Michigan squad that’s 12-4 and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines did just suffer a rather demoralizing 87-70 loss at Purdue -- they were without senior co-captain Chris LeVert, who suffered an injured foot -- but they’ve also blown out Penn State at home and scored a double-digit win against Illinois in Champaign, Ill.
Offensively, Michigan can be downright dangerous, converting at a 50-percent clip from the field, which is 12th best nationally, and 42.6 percent from 3-point range -- the sixth best rate in the nation. The Wolverines score almost 79 points per game (76th nationally), have a 1.67 assist-to-turnover ratio (10th nationally) and are shooting 72 percent from the charity stripe (83rd nationally).
“[Michigan’s] offense -- they’re great shooters and they’re a running team. It’s another challenge for us in the Big Ten,” Trimble said.
Said Turgeon: “We’re playing a heck of a team that can really score, spread you out, and they’re a good home team.”
The Wolverines do struggle, however, on the offensive glass. Michigan ranks among the bottom dozen teams in the country at 7.56 boards per game.
On the defensive end, Michigan holds foes to about 63 points per (18th nationally), although teams are hitting 41.2 percent from the field (106th nationally) and 35.4 percent from distance (234th nationally). The Wolverines don’t have particularly sticky fingers (12.88 turnovers forced per game; 203td nationally); aren’t the most avid rim protectors (39 total blocks); and don’t command a wide rebounding margin (1.5; 161st nationally).
Michigan’s backcourt features a primetime shooting guard in senior Chris LeVert (6-7), who should play against Maryland. LeVert leads the squad at 17.6 points per game, shooting 51 percent from the field, 44.6 percent from range and 80 percent from the line. He averages 5.4 rebounds and boasts a team-high 73 assists.
The point guard, Derrick Walton (6-1), puts up 10.1 points; three assists; and 5.2 rebounds a night. He’s not much of a shooter, but when Walton lets it fly he’s been rather efficient (44 percent from the field and 52 percent from deep).
Combo guard/forward Zak Irvin scores 8.9 points per gam on 42 percent shooting and just 25 percent from beyond the arc. He averages 3.5 rebounds and three assists a night.
Meanwhile, ex-walk-on Duncan Robinson (6-8) plays a wing/stretch-4 role and is second on the team at 11.8 points per game. He’s shooting 54 percent from the field and a team-high 55.7 percent from deep and 90 percent at the line. Robinson grabs about three boards and drops around two dimes per game as well.
“There’s obviously a lot of great players out there and guys get overlooked. But [Robinson’s] obviously at the right spot now,” Turgeon said. “[The Wolverines] put five players on the floor who can shoot the 3, and he’s the best. It’s good to see a kid getting an opportunity, and he’s really helping their basketball team.”
The fifth starting spot has been up in the air this year, but of late it’s been forward Mark Donnal (6-9), who averages 6.6 points per game on 60 percent shooting. He’s not a 3-point shooter, however, nor is Donnal a particularly potent rebounder (about three per game).
Beyond the starting five, Michigan does go fairly deep, rotating through four or five more players. Backup guard Mohammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (6-2) got the nod in place of the injured LeVert against Purdue, and he typically sees about 19 minutes a night, averaging six points on 49 percent shooting.
Combo forward Aubrey Dawkins tallies 8.1 points on 55 percent shooting and 47 percent from distance, usually entering games for his 3-point prowess. And 6-10 forward D.J. Wilson chips in a couple buckets each night, although he hasn’t been an effective rebounder or rim protector.
“Every team is different, and you have to adjust how you guard. [Michigan] has a really talented group, a great coach and we just have to focus in and try to guard them,” Carter said. “Every game is going to be tough, especially on the road. We just have to work and continue to get better. Every game we’re getting better. We win by one or win by 20, as long as we get the job done. Everybody knows we can get the job done offensively, now we just have to continue to grow as a unit.”