COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Typically, after Maryland coach Mark Turgeon finishes his required media sessions, he promptly exits stage left, heading straight back to his office. But Feb. 26, a day before the Terps (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) traveled to Purdue, he lingered for awhile on the Xfinity Center floor, watching point guard Melo Trimble hoist up 15-foot jump shots; break down a defender off the dribble; and even shoot foul shots.
The pair have actually spent a lot of time together during the last week, the coach attempting to cull out whatever issues have been plaguing his sophomore star.
For the last couple weeks, spanning three games, Trimble hasn’t exactly looked, well, “melo” out there. In fact, he’s been visibly frustrated at times, which is uncharacteristic for the ice-in-the-veins, even-keeled point guard.
During the three-game stretch, Trimble’s turned the ball over an average of six times, hasn’t score more than 14 points in any one contest, and has connected on just 2-of-9 3-pointers. And in Maryland’s most recent bout, an 86-82 win against Michigan, Trimble dished out only one assist against seven hiccups.
Some have speculated Trimble’s been playing through a hamstring injury, but the Upper Marlboro, Md., native said that’s not the case.
“I just haven’t been the same,” Trimble said. “Turnovers are something that’s been bothering me, especially when you’re a point guard. My hips, I’m not getting as low as I used to. And also my shot, that’s something I’ve been working on.
“My teammates reached out to me. I watched film with Coach Turgeon and John Auslander reached out to me. Juan Dixon talked to me as well. They just did everything they could to help me get my confidence back and just get right.”
Trimble said he and Turgeon broke down film all week long, going over various parts of his game. But, mainly, the coach simply wanted his point guard to play the game of basketball without dwelling on his past struggles.
“It’s both mental and physical,” Trimble said. “Coach has been telling me just play basketball, let the game come to me and not overthinking. And then physically, just take care of my body.
“My job is just to play basketball and lead my team. That’s something Coach Turgeon was telling me, run my team.”
Turgeon previously stuck to the company line, so to speak: Melo’s fine. But Feb. 26 the headman admitted it was “fair to say” Trimble’s struggled a little and needed to get back on track.
“Just better decision making, making the easy play and trusting your teammates is what it comes down to,” Turgeon said. “I’ve seen signs [of Trimble breaking out]. The Michigan game, you take away the turnovers, it’s the best we’ve been offensively in a long time. We did a lot of nice things, and hopefully that’s going to carry over.”
Hopefully, for Maryland’s sake, the week off in-between games will aid them as well. Turgeon said he sensed his team was mentally fresher, while they’ve done well with “details” during practice. The head coach harped on two areas in particular: taking care of the basketball and rebounding. He said both have been an issue all year and need to get corrected heading into March.
Turnovers, in particular, have been a problem, the Terps coughing the ball up an average of 14 times a night. During the Michigan game, they handed the ball to the Wolverines on 18 occasions.
“We’ve been able to watch more film this week, and we’ve watched the turnovers individually with the guys. Some of the turnovers have just been ridiculous, to be honest. Traveling, no one guarding you and losing the ball,” Turgeon said. “Really the worst part of our turnovers is they’ve led to layups. Sometimes you throw it in the stands and it looks bad, but at least you get to set your defense. Twelve points at Minnesota and eight against Michigan where it’s like, ‘Here, go shoot a layup.’ That puts a lot of pressure on you throughout the game.
“So we’ve run a lot of sprints this week for turnovers. We’ve run steps for turnovers. It’s not just about [Feb. 27]; it’s about the rest of the season, and hopefully we can correct that. When we do [limit turnovers], we’re a really good basketball team, and that’s the goal moving forward.”
The players acknowledged the turnover troubles, and said they did better handling the ball during practice. Junior forward Robert Carter, for his part, said he coughed it up just once all week.
“And it wasn’t even my fault either,” Carter said, laughing. “It was right before practice ended too.
“But we practiced hard, worked on rebounding and taking care of the ball. We take care of those two aspects, and we’ll be right where we need to be.”
They’ll have a chance to prove it Feb. 27 when the Terps take on a squad they beat just three weeks ago in College Park. Purdue (21-7, 9-6), which has lost three of its last six games and is coming off a defeat at Indiana, fell to UMD Feb. 6, 72-61. Four Maryland players scored in double figures, including Robert Carter (19 points), Rasheed Sulaimon (21), Trimble (14) and Diamond Stone (12). Sulaimon ended up with 10 rebounds, Carter had two blocks and Trimble dropped seven dimes.
The Terps shot 41 percent from the floor, 22 percent from deep and were a scintillating 24-of-27 from the line. Both teams recorded 37 rebounds, while Maryland turned the ball over just eight times.
Recall, the Terps effectively used the pick-and-roll with Trimble and Carter to break down the Purdue defense. Look for Maryland to employ a similar strategy in West Lafayette.
“We’ll have to see what [the Boilermakers] do. Purdue might come out with a different game plan like Wisconsin the second time we played them,” Turgeon said. “The best lineup for Purdue is when they went small; it helped their ball-screen defense and hurt us. Hopefully we’re better against that then we were [in College Park].”
The ball-screen “D” may have stunted the Terps’ attack, but the UMD defense got the job done for 40 minutes, holding Purdue to 40.6 percent shooting; 12 percent from 3; and allowing only two free throws on five attempts. The Terps also forced nine turnovers.
Center A.J. Hammons, as he’s done to opponents all season, gave Maryland some problems with 18 points and 10 boards, but no other Purdue player reached double figures.
“I thought we post-defended pretty well. It’s a little bit different on the road -- you’re allowed to be a little more physical at home most times,” Turgeon said. “I think we’ll have a better feel for their motion offense; we’ve been able to work on it a couple days this week.”
While Purdue has been struggling of late, the Boilermakers are rather potent in West Lafayette, Ind. They’ve lost only once on their home floor, back on Jan. 2 to Iowa.
“It’ll be a tough environment; they’re a heck of a home team like most home teams are,” Turgeon said. “But we have a good feel for each other. It should be a good game.”
Despite the losses of late, Purdue still ranks among the Big Ten’s best in most major statistical categories. The Boilermakers are fourth in scoring (76 points per game), third in scoring margin (plus-13.2 points), third in free-throw percentage (74 percent), fifth in field-goal percentage (46 percent), seventh in 3-point shooting (36 percent), fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) and they are first in offensive rebounding (12.2 per game).
Defensively, Purdue sits second in scoring defense (64 points allowed per), second in field-goal percentage defense (38.7 percent), third in 3-point defense (31 percent), second in rebounding margin (plus-10.9), fifth in blocks (five per) and 12th in steals (4.5). The Boilermakers, though, sit dead last in turnover margin (minus-2.5), possessing a season-long inability to take the ball away from their foes.
“But they’re a big team,” Carter said. “They post the ball so much, and try to get the ball to their big guys, which is smart because they’re huge. We have to keep the ball out of the paint, take them out of their comfort zone and make them take tough shots. But it’ll be good to play with some guys our size and battle.”
Purdue may possess length, but sophomore point guard P.J. Thompson stands just 5-feet-10. He only scores 5.6 points and dishes out 2.8 assists per game too. But when he does put the ball up from range, Thompson’s fairly proficient, connecting on a team-high 40-percent of his 3s. Thompson does not turn the ball over very often, either, while he’s an 82 percent free-throw shooter.
Joining Thompson in the backcourt, senior Rapheal Davis (6-6) averages about nine points and four rebounds. He shoots 40 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep.
Wing Vince Edwards (6-8), meanwhile, has a 10 and 5.4 line. He’s been known to put up the triples as well, knocking them down at a 39-percent clip. Edwards is also an 81 percent foul shooter.
Freshman forward Caleb Swanigan (6-9) averages 10 points and 8.5 boards a night, the latter stat ranking No. 1 in the entire conference. He struggles from distance, however, connecting on 29 percent of his attempts.
Rounding out the starting lineup is the aforementioned Hammons, the 7-foot senior proving to be Purdue’s breadwinner. Hammons leads the squad at 14.6 points per game, to go along with eight boards per, which puts him fifth in the Big Ten. He shoots 58 percent from the field (third in the Big Ten), has a Boilermakers best 2.6 blocks per game (second in the Big Ten) and pulls down 2.5 offensive rebounds per game (fourth in the Big Ten). Hammons will turn the ball over (a team-high two per night), but overall he’s one of the league’s most potent performers.
Other Boilermakers who see significant minutes include center Isaac Haas (7-2), guard Johnny Hill (6-3) and guard Dakota Mathias (6-4).
Haas actually plays alongside Hammons when Purdue goes with its “twin towers” lineup. He averages 10 points and four rebounds per game.
Hill and Mathias both put up about five points a night, respectively.
“We feel every game we need to win at this point. We should be playing our best basketball right now,” Carter said. “There’s three games left in the season, and we just want to come out and play our best basketball.”
Carter’s words echoed those of his head coach:
“The only thing we talk about is winning the league, and we control our own destiny. … But we have to beat Purdue first. If we don’t beat Purdue we’re probably out of it. What I want us to do is start playing our best basketball, and we’re getting closer to that. I know we lost two out of three, but we’re getting closer.”
If the Terps can take care of business against Purdue, Illinois and Indiana, they’ll claim the Big Ten title heading into the conference tournament. It won’t be an easy task going against two of the conference’s more potent squads on the road (Purdue and IU), but Turgeon and his squad insist they’re up for the challenge.
“It’s been a good week, and I think our schedule is set up to really challenge us and prepare us,” Turgeon said. “I remember watching Michigan State last year, and their schedule was very difficult. And they finished 12-6 in our league, but they were prepared when the postseason hit. I’m hoping that our schedule is preparing us to be successful in March.”
Note: Turgeon also commented on senior wing Jake Layman’s play.
“I just think he’s really comfortable in his own skin right now. He’s playing at a high level, making almost all the right decisions,” the coach said. “About three, four weeks ago in practice he got a lot more comfortable offensively. It’s kind of carried over to the games. He’s a weapon out there for us. Offensively he tries to make the right decision and defensively he’s been good for us. He’s having a heck of a senior year. I think when kids say they’re going to enjoy their senior years they tend to play well, and that’s what Jake’s doing.”