COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon knows just what he meant, particularly in the wake of Saturday afternoon’s open practice in Xfinity Center. His 2016-17 Terrapins went at it in a scrimmage for about 23 minutes of game-clock.
“I think today was really good for me because I wasn’t really coaching, I was just watching,” Turgeon said. “It was a lot easier for me.”
So what did Turg and the 400-or-so fans in the building observe?
“Well, I think Melo is going to play,” the coach deadpanned. “There are some guys…I have some depth. If certain guys aren’t playing well I can plug someone else in. That’s the good thing. It’s getting a little bit clearer with three weeks of practice.”
That Melo fellow – senior point guard Melo Trimble – flashed his All-America credentials from two years ago, scoring a scrimmage-high 16 points to go with five assists, and generally had his way offensively.
The explosiveness that was missing last year thanks to achy ankles and an array of aches and pains was back in his game. He was quick to the basket, splitting defenders, getting into the paint whenever he wanted and creating offense for a mismatched mélange of Maryland players.
Other good things observed included some quickness and athleticism from graduate transfer L.G. Gill, who brought his Gold team back from an 11-point deficit to force overtime after the first 16-minute period against Trimble’s Red squad. Gill would finish with 11 points, six during a 10-point run to make it 24-23, Red, with 4:12 left. He got a dunk off a feed from 6-9 Ivan Bender (another revelation with his revamped body and peerless post passing).
Gill also kept balls alive on the glass and got to the free throw line twice during that stretch, the 6-8, 230-pounder looks like he can help in the paint, belying the reports of him as a 3-point specialist at Duquesne.
“I’m an energy guy,” he said. “Like I told Coach, every time I step on the court I want to give my best and bring energy, offensive rebounding and rebounding. I go to the glass every time. I want to provide toughness, aggressive, energy and experience, as well.”
First look, Gill did just that, admitting he chose Maryland because he wanted to win. Now. “I told everyone we had to turn it up a notch,” he said of the comeback. “I hate to lose. That’s one of the reason I wanted to come to Maryland. I’ve been losing for three years. After you lose for a while, you get tired of it. Whether it’s a scrimmage, practice or a game, I want to win everything.”
Another newcomer, teamed with Trimble on the Red squad, made an early name for himself, too. Freshman Kevin Huerter was 4-of-6 behind the arc and had 12 points. He’ll find himself on the receiving end of a lot of Trimble drive and dish feeds.
“Making your first shot out here is always important,” he said. “I try to get a lot of shots up every day.”
A couple of anxiously-awaited Terrapins didn’t get a shot in the team’s first public appearance. Junior center Michal Cekovsky, still nursing a hamstring injury, didn’t see any scrimmage run and highly-touted freshman Justin Jackson “tweaked his ankle” just at the end of pre-scrimmage practice, and was held out, as well.
Turgeon said had this been a real game, the versatile, 6-7 Jackson could have played, but with a team day off tomorrow, he gave him the time to get well for the next practice on Monday. Turgeon is enjoying that sort of luxury so far this year.
“We have a lot of guys that know how to play,” he said. “They have a good feel for the game.”
Trimble had the game’s first four points, then fed Huerter for a three that made it 7-0 early. Trimble had eight points and three assists on his team’s first 18 points, getting some unexpected late help that first period as 6-9 freshman Joshua Tomaic threw in a surprising eight points, many after the Gold team tightened things up.
Tomaic, who doesn’t project to have a big role, had a nifty, lefty hook in close, hit a free throw-line jumper and then stepped out and drained a three from the top of the key. He also had at least three or four fouls that were called and some more that maybe were not.
He and fellow freshman Micah Thomas look like high-energy guys off the bench, both with long arms and quickness that can help defensively once they start to grasp that part of the college game.
“We had a lot of guys make shots today, and that’s been pretty consistent in practice,” said Turgeon. “Our spacing was good. We actually didn’t move the ball like we had been moving it. People in the stands, I don’t what it was. We have a lot of good passers, a lot of good shooters. We’re able to stretch it.”
Another freshman, diminutive guard Anthony Cowan made some plays for the Gold Team late to force the tie. He had a couple of steals as Melo & Co., got a little careless with the ball, then when Cowan was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.2 seconds remaining, he knocked down all three free throw attempts to knot the score 35-35.
The Red team worked a length of the court play that got Trimble wide open (think Valpo NCAA miracle) but the pass to him was low and he couldn’t get up a shot.
When the teams went to overtime, Cowan switched sides and drained a three to put the Reds on top, but Jared Nickens started to get hot for the Gold, hitting back-to-back treys, the last at 3:04 to bring his team within 43-42,
Trimble had hit a floater and then Huerter got his fourth three to put the Red out in front before Nickens heated up. Then about that time, with 1:50 remaining in a period that started with eight minutes on the clock, Turgeon blew the whistle and ended the scrimmage.
“We would have went longer but we were down two guys today,” said Turgeon. “We had no subs at the bigs today. We’ve created great competition, though. Our practices have been terrific.”
Passing is obviously a team strength. “We really enjoy playing with each other,” said Huerter. “There are a lot of guys here that think like a point guard. Whether you have the ball in your hands or not, you’re moving around and someone’s going to find you.”
Redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley, coming off the knee surgery of a year ago, looked great in the warm-ups – no knee brace, no sign of favoring the injury, and showing quickness in a leaner, meaner body. All that translated to just five points, but that will certainly change when he’s playing alongside Trimble instead of against him, on the receiving end of Melo’s movement and penetration passes.
“It will be interesting to see what we do over the next three weeks,” added Turgeon. “If you had asked me three days ago I would have had a starting lineup. If you had asked me yesterday, I would have had a lineup and if you ask me right now I have a different one than I had yesterday. I think a lot of it is going to be matchups and who we’re playing.”
The coach said Bender had been the surprise of preseason, particularly his passing. With Ceko out as practices began, the Big Bosnian got a lot of extra work, and that could pay off for the Terps. Turgeon sounded a little miffed that the offense was ahead of the defense so far, especially after the team had spent the majority of its practices focused on defending.
“Three weeks in, we’re not really good at anything yet,” he added. “But we will be. We’ll lock in, playing five guys and trying to get better.”
The Terrapins return to action – publicly – on Nov. 5 with a 2 p.m., exhibition against Catawba. The season-opener is Nov. 11 against American.