COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Much was made of center Damonte Dodd’s career offensive outburst, Jared Nickens’ re-found 3-point stroke and Justin Jackson’s all-around dominance in Maryland’s win against Michigan Jan. 7. But not to be overlooked was the play of junior point guard Melo Trimble, who facilitated the Terps’ 77-70 road victory. Trimble didn’t have the fancy finishes like Jackson or drain four consecutive triples like Nickens, but the veteran leader filled up the box score nonetheless.
In 32 minutes, Trimble scored 13 points, hit 2 of his 4 treys, pulled down six rebounds, handed out four assists, and came up with three steals. Most impressive was his ability to find Dodd for easy buckets underneath, while driving and dishing to open teammates Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter up top.
“I think he’s really matured and handled everything great. In the second half [against Michigan] he made big-time plays for us. He really trusted his teammates,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Melo’s a winner and he figures out ways to win. He’s really comfortable playing with his teammates.”
In reality, it took not only Trimble, but the entire squad, time to develop chemistry with one another. With the Terps starting three freshmen in Jackson, Cowan and Huerter, the team needed a “transition period” before they knew each others’ tendencies.
Dodd, for his part, said Trimble’s constant work with the freshmen and his continually improving leadership skills have begun to pay dividends. Basically, per Dodd, Trimble and Co. are beginning to move beyond the “transition period.”
Huerter, meanwhile, has noticed crisper ball movement; smoother offensive sets; and better shot selection as a result. He said Trimble’s ability to attack, drive and kick has led to wide open long-balls for the rest of the team.
“It started with me just trusting the bigs, trusting the young guys Anthony, Justin and Kevin. For them to do what they did and the way they played [against Michigan], it was special. It showed they were tough,” Trimble said. “Plenty of times I could’ve tried to do too much, but I decided to trust my teammates. Damonte kicking the ball out, Kevin knocking down shots, and Anthony being the good player that he is… Just playing with them the last 15 games, it’s really helped me [trust my teammates].”
Trimble’s progress was hardly surprising, however, given his status as team leader and face of the program. But Dodd’s performance Jan. 7 certainly opened some eyes. The senior center, who is not the most adept big with the ball in his hands, scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting and managed to hit all three of his free-throws.
“I was doing how I usually do. I was actually trying to get Melo points, Anthony [Cowan] points. I was trying to get them downhill for some easy layups,” Dodd said. “But [the defense] stayed with them longer, and it opened up lanes for me … But I’ve always been about getting my teammates points first. That’s just how I am.”
The Terps will take anything they can get from Dodd offensively moving forward, but Turgeon would undoubtedly love if Nickens can continue hitting from 3. Playing in Dion Wiley’s absence, the beleaguered sharpshooter stepped up (out?) and drained all four of his attempts. Nickens was contested on three of the four, making his output more impressive.
But Nickens’ rise came at the expense of Wiley. Turgeon said although Wiley had been dealing with an illness, the coach still intended to play the sophomore guard against the Wolverines. As the game wore on, though, Turgeon elected to stick with Nickens’ hot hand.
“[Wiley is] mature. We had a long talk after the game, and he gets it. He was a little bit sick, and that hurt him,” Turgeon said. “But he gets it. It’s a long season. He’s going to be a big part of what we do.”
Next up, the Terps host an Indiana squad that’s much more potent than its 11-5 (1-2 Big Ten) record indicates. After back-to-back losses to Louisville and Wisconsin, IU rebounded with a 16-point victory over Illinois.
The Hoosiers rank first in the Big Ten at 86 points a night and are second in scoring margin, typically winning games by around 17 per game. That’s a direct result of their breakneck transition offense, with IU sitting among the nation’s best in number of possessions and points per possession.
“They’re really good in transition. They run off makes, they run off misses,” Huerter said. “So the focus for us is we’ve got to guard the ball and keep guys in front of us … and make sure we have guys on help defense and play at the pace we want.”
It takes more than just running the floor to score 86 a game, though. Naturally, IU can connect from the field, draining a conference best 50.5 percent of its attempts and 40 percent from distance. To boot, the Hoosiers are solid from the line (73 percent) and are second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding.
Indiana does tend to cough the ball up quite a bit -- minus-4.4 turnover margin, which is last in the league -- but the Hoosiers make up for it with their efficient shooting and ability to score in bunches.
Much is made of IU’s attack, but its defense isn’t exactly lacking. The Hoosiers will give up their share of points, mainly because opponents are granted more offensive possessions due to Indiana’s pace, but they limit the 3-ball (30.1 percent against; third in Big Ten); rebound well (second in Big Ten); actively protect the rim (fifth in Big Ten in blocks); and come up with turnovers (sixth in Big Ten in steals).
The main issues for IU are the aforementioned turnover troubles and allowing too many easy buckets on defense.
“[The IU game] will be a challenge. They’re good – they’re really good,” Turgeon said. “They play at a pace we haven’t seen, and we have to adjust to it. Thirty-five percent of their offense comes in transition, which means we have to take good shots and take care of the ball. And they’re good at ball screens and spreading the floor, so we have to do a great job guarding them. And they’re the second best offensive rebounding team in the league, which means they have length, so we have to get on the boards.”
Junior guards James Blackmon and Robert Johnson lead the way, the pair averaging 17.3 and 14 points per game, respectively. Blackmon shoots 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from distance, while Johnson hits 52 percent from the field and 42 percent of his 3s. Beyond their scoring/finishing prowess, both are adept at finding teammates in transition, breaking down defenses in the halfcourt, and locking down the 3-point arc.
Joining Blackmon and Johnson in the backcourt is point guard Josh Newkirk. The veteran floor general doesn’t put up many points, but he sees the floor well and leads the squad with nearly four assists a night.
In the frontcourt, sophomore Thomas Bryant has taken a significant leap from his freshman season. He’s developed into one of the more potent bigs in the Big Ten, averaging over 12 points and seven boards, while racking up almost two blocks per game. To boot, Bryant has touch at all three levels and has connected on 48 percent of his treys.
“He’s a good player and he’ll be looking to get his points. My job as a defensive-minded player is to force him into tough shots and make nothing easy,” Dodd said. “He’s going to get his, but I’m going to try to make it tough for him. But he’s a real good player and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Rounding out the lineup are bigs Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby, who tend to rotate. Morgan has gotten the starting nod of late, but Anunoby plays the bulk of the minutes. The latter drops in a dozen and pulls down half-a-dozen boards, while the former scores 7.5 and grabs 5.6 rebounds per game.
Those two team with Bryant to form a versatile, athletic frontcourt.
“[Bryant] is a load, but both their bigs are tough for us,” Turgeon said. “But our guys are looking forward to playing Indiana. Talent-wise they’re terrific, and they were picked to finish one, two or three in the league. They have our full attention. … Their backs are against the wall a little bit like ours were, so we expect to get their best effort.”