COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Terrapins nearly made American great again Nov. 11
In the end, though, Melo Timble trumped anything the Eagles could come up with in a 62-56 victory in the opener for both programs.
Banged-up Maryland (And isn’t it awful early to be banged up?) overcame a deficit in the final 7 ½ minutes, thanks to the top Terp and some scrappy new parts. The combination wasn’t always pretty, but it was enough for the 25th ranked Terrapins at home in Xfinity Center.
“Just getting stops and not worrying about beating a team by 20 points or 10 points, just going out and playing basketball,” said Trimble of the difference down the stretch. “We stopped turning the ball over during that stretch.”
“That stretch” was a 12-2 run that started with four quick points from Trimble – on his way to a game-high 22 – to tie the game. Some of his younger teammates seem to be shaking off some first-game jitters, before the Terrapins (1-0) found themselves, and survived to now turn attention to Tuesday’s big game at Georgetown.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say nervous, I just thought they were anxious to get out there and play that first game,” said Maryland forward L.G. Gill, who had 11 points and six rebounds in his game for the Terrapins. “I get that feeling before every game and I’m a senior.”
Gill played like one, too. He came off the bench and immediately made some good things happen, and in the end the slender 6-8 Gill even filled in at center some with Michal Cekovsky out with a sprained right foot, Ivan Bender limited with a fractured left wrist and starter Damonte Dodd picking up two early fouls.
“Coach wanted me to back up Damonte today,” said Gill. “I never really played the five, but I’ve been working on it in practice, and if coach wants me to do it, I’ll do it.”
Gill and Trimble, who had sprained his ankle in the Catawba exhibition, were the most vocal with the new Maryland mix of players, encouraging them to focus defensively as things didn’t go smoothly on offense. “I just told them to focus on getting stops,” said Gill. “Melo leads by example all the time, but he was more vocal tonight. We know we’re capable of guarding the three-ball better than we did tonight.”
American (0-1) got eight threes in 23 attempts, five of them from their big men who made Dodd, in particular, chase them far away from the basket. Meanwhile freshman Kevin Huerter clamped down on the Eagles’ best player, shooting guard Delante Jones, the main factor in holding him to 4-of-11 shooting and forcing three turnovers.
But Huerter and several other of the Terrapins Turgeon is counting on to provide firepower, struggled. He, starter Jared Nickens (0-for-5), veteran Dion Wiley (1-6) and freshman Justin Jackson (1-4) combined to hit just four of 21 shots. Hueter and Jackson, in particular found other ways to contribute and when Huerter finally got a couple of second half threes to fall, it was big.
“We slowed it down, we executed better, and we made a jump shot,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “Kevin Huerter made two, one really tough one in front of our bench. That helped our guys take a deep breath and relax a little bit.”
Still it was Trimble who turned it on to spot the Terrapins to an early lead, an then who flipped the switch again when the going got tough in the second half.
Trailing American 47-43 with under eight minutes to play, Trimble took over again. He hit a driving, falling shot in the paint then scored on another drive to tie the game up.
Jackson got a steal and hit one of two free throws to put Maryland back in front 48-47 at 4:51. The Terrapin defense, in the midst of five straight stops, got two free throws from Gill for a 3-point lead, but Charlie Jones scored inside at 4:10 to make it 50-49. Out of a timeout, Nickens missed an open three, but Gill grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit two more free throws.
Then it was Huerter’s turn. He blocked Jones’ lay-up attempt, and hit a 3-pointer at the other end for a 55-49 lead at 3:03. “That was big,” said Trimble, who knows about such things.
Good-looking 6-10 freshman Mark Gasperini scored inside for AU, but another freshman came up with a big play for the Terps, Jackson tipping in one of Gill’s rare misses.
“I could see (on) all the freshmen’s faces that they were just excited to get out there,” said Trimble. “We just had to relax and play basketball.”
The Terrapins weren’t home free yet. Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year Jones nailed a long 3-pointer and it was 57-54 with 1:33 to play. Trimble worked the clock down, slithered inside and scored over Gasperini at1:04. Jones missed and Jackson grabbed a clutch rebound.
“Coach Turgeon trusts me in those situations, and my teammates do, as well,” said Trimble. “I knew it was time to take over, not just with my points but also me just leading the team.”
Another frosh, Anthony Cowan hit two free throws on his way to 12 points and a whopping nine rebounds, and order had been restored with a 61-54 lead and just 22.7 seconds left. American shot 38.5 percent (20-of-52) for the night and missed eight of their final 14 shots as the game hung in the balance and the Terrapins rediscovered an old formula.
The Terrapins were 18-of-25 at the free throw line (7-of-8 from Gill), and the Eagles got just five free throw attempts and hit four on the evening. That was part of Maryland slowing down and running better offense. And remembering they didn’t have to make a statement, they just had to get a win.
“The thing I’m most proud of, and I’ll use a Big Ten team,” explained Turgeon. “I told our guys this last night. Last year I watched Wisconsin, who lost a lot of players, lose their home opener to Western Illinois, and they had a heck of a team. They won a lot of games, went to the Sweet Sixteen, and came into our building and beat us. We figured out how to win.”
Trimble was the only starter back from Maryland’s 29-7, Sweet Sixteen team. He found himself starting alongside Cowan, Huerter and Nickens in essentially a four-guard lineup. “We started them because of who we’re playing, injuries, where we are, practice,” said Turgeon. “At the end, it’s not like my assistants were yelling in my ear, ‘take the young guys out.’ We all felt the same way, and that was the group were going to go with. It might be different Tuesday.”
Maryland also had a commanding 44-22 rebounding advantage and overcame 18 jittery turnovers to win for the 78th time at Xfinity in 91 games under Turgeon. The going gets a lot tougher Tuesday at Verizon against the Hoyas, but the Terrapins will enjoy this one for now.
“Practices have been great for us, to see how we play together, to see each others strengths and weaknesses,” said Trimble. “Out there you could see that things got a little bit antsy, but we’re starting to figure out how to play with each other.”
The Eagles started the second half strong, Gasperini hitting a 3-pointer to pull American within 31-28, just 58 seconds in. Trimble got a lay-up in a scramble after a missed free throw, but then Delante Jones hit a three. When Gasperini, who had 14 points, and James Washington scored back-to-back lay-ups, Washington’s at 14:39, American tied it up at 36-36.
Turgeon briefly got all his freshmen off the floor just before the first dead-ball timeout of the second half. Turgeon stayed with that lineup, but Wiley had an ill-advised shot blocked and then Nickens missed a jumper. When Wiley fouled Sa’eed Nelson at 12:39, the AU guard drained all three free throws for a 39-36 lead.
Gill hit a hook but then with a chance to regain the lead, Jaylen Brantley was out of control to get an offensive foul.
Dodd hit a hook shot to put Maryland back up 40-39, but at the other end, he lost Gasperini again, and the big freshman knocked down his second 3-pointer to put American back in front. When Huerter hit a 3-pointer of his own at 10:07, there was a palpable sigh of relief, then a huge roar from the crowd of 17,078.
But AU answered with a three from George Washington transfer Matt Cimino at 7:58, to go back up 45-43. Nelson got a steal and lay-up to make it a four-point edge, but Trimble took over then.
“I think Melo definitely came out and set the tone for the freshmen to follow,” said Gill. “He’s a great leader. We kind of laugh and joke that he’s not more of a vocal leader, but he’s definitely someone that the freshmen can look up to.”
Maryland led 31-25 after a sluggish first half. The Terrapins had 11 turnovers and shot just 40 percent (10-of-25), some of the youngsters looking a little jittery. Trimble saved the day with 13 points, but it was his freshman backcourt mate, Cowan, that turned the tide. The Terps trailed by five when he hit a big three off a Trimble feed at 4:00.
He hit two more free throws 46 seconds later to tie it up, and then got a steal and converted a 3-point play in transition to make it 26-23 at 2:50.
Trimble added two more free throws – Maryland was 8-of-10 over the final 4:46 of the first half – and Maryland looked poised to pull away. But Cowan had a pass picked and Nelson got an easy hoop at 1:04, to end a late 3-minute AU scoring drought.
Terrapins went out to a 7-2 early lead, Trimble hitting his first three shots, all drives to the hoop. But the Terrapins had eight turnovers in the first 12 minutes, and couldn’t seem to get on track except for Trimble. Gill provided a spark off the bench, active on the boards at both ends. Ditto Jackson, who kept the ball alive a couple of times but missed his first two shots in close.
When AU’s Jalen Rhea hit a three at 10:50, the Eagles had closed to 11-9.
Brantley banked in a 3-pointer from the corner and Gill hit a nice little turnaround to put Maryland up by five, but the Eagles soared ahead with a 7-0 run. When Leon Tolksdorff drained a 3-pointer at 5:09, American had an 18-16 lead.
They would stretch the advantage to 23-18 at 4:15 on Nelson’s steal and lay-in.
American hung around early by getting 16 first half points off turnovers. The Terrapins had a 21-10 rebounding edge in the first half, even playing a mostly small lineup thanks to Cekovsky’s injury and Dodd’s early foul trouble. Bender played but was largely ineffective with no points and three rebounds in nine minutes.
Jackson equaled Cowan with nine rebounds, but had just three points, but also two steals. Huerter had six points (2-of-6 from the field) and six rebounds. Nickens was scoreless in 15 minutes, and Wiley had just two points. Dodd had three points but no rebounds in 11 minutes.
The next home game is Nov. 17 against St. Mary’s College.