COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland ended its two-game slide Feb. 11 against Ohio State, but one of the main inquiries for head coach Mark Turgeon during his Valentine’s Day press conference was in regards to a noticeably slumping Terp. Junior point guard Melo Trimble, the team’s leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, had his fourth straight subpar offensive performance, putting up 10 points on just 3-of-11 shooting.
During the stretch, Trimble hasn’t shot better than 38.5 percent from floor or 25 percent from 3-point range. In fact, he hasn’t connected on more than one triple during a game since Maryland beat Rutgers six games ago.
At times, when Trimble has seemingly forced the issue offensively, Turgeon has yanked the veteran for brief periods. At others, Turgeon has gambled his lead guard will re-find himself and at least efficiently run the offense even if his stroke is off.
“I know Melo pretty well,” Turgeon said. “He’s shot the ball well except for the last three games. He’s getting great looks, he continues to make plays for us, he’s defending better, he’s leading better. He’s still one of the better players in the league. Everybody’s scouting report is to stop Melo, which opens it up for the rest of the guys… He’ll be fine. He’ll get himself out of it.”
Truth be told, Turgeon was less concerned about proven individuals like Trimble than he was about the squad’s defense and rebounding. The headman noted that the Terps have locked down at various points over the course of games, but still haven’t put together a dominant defensive effort. Moreover, he noted there are too many times when his team doesn’t box out or allows opponents to gain position on the offensive glass.
“Defensively I want to get better. We guarded the first half [against Ohio State] and didn’t the second half… Rebounding, we’ll continue to get better with that. And offensively you never stop trying to get better sharing the ball and executing,” Turgeon said. “But the thing about basketball is every situation is different. You just try to correct all things and try to get better. I look at the big picture: We’re 21-4 and won a lot of close games. We’re getting closer. You can feel it, sense it. We’re getting better every day.”
One area that’s noticeably improved this year is UMD’s depth. The Terps are receiving significant contributions from eight or nine players every night – and sometimes more.
Against OSU, Maryland finished with 33 bench points and had 10 players finish with double-digit minutes.
“That’s why you recruit a lot of players. We have a lot of players playing well right now,” Turgeon said. “I have three options at the center position, LG [Gill] is coming on, Jared [Nickens] is playing well, Jaylen [Brantley] is doing well. We have depth … and the more you can keep guys physically and mentally fresh it helps you.”
The backup point guard Brantley was arguably the difference between a win and a loss Feb. 11. In 20 minutes, the former junior-college star drained 3-of-4 3-pointers en route to 11 points, while also dropping two key assists and grabbing two rebounds.
Although there have been times Brantley has disappeared, for the most part he’s filled in admirably as a ball-handler, distributor, defender and sometimes even a scorer when Trimble needs a rest.
“It’s a pretty great story. There wasn’t anybody recruiting him except us. There was something in him we saw – I guess the word is ‘winner.’ We knew he could help us, and he’s tough as nails,” Turgeon said. “He’s physically and mentally tough as it comes. It was a big jump from JUCO to a top-10 team his first year, but we knew he could [make the transition].”
Another rotational piece Turgeon heaped praise on was former starter Michal Cekovsky, who has battled injuries all season. Cekovsky is still working back to optimum cardio shape, but he’s stepped up when inserted. The 7-footer may turn the ball over or fail to rotate defensively sometimes, but he’s shown he can score around the rim and rebound. On Feb. 11, Cekovsky grabbed four rebounds and converted all of his field goals as he scored seven points in 10 minutes.
“Ceko has really grown up. He’s at peace, he’s happy every day. He does hate being hurt. That was hard for him. But he has a great friend in Ivan [Bender]; they’re like brothers,” Turgeon said. “Life is good being a Maryland basketball player, and he gets that. He’s really matured. This year hasn’t gone the way he wanted it to on the court, but everywhere else has been good. He’s getting better [on the court], he sees the big picture, and he knows he can help us down the stretch.”
Next up for Cekovsky and Co. is a foe that just ended a two-game skid by knocking off No. 7 Wisconsin in Madison, Wisc., 66-59. Northwestern (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten) received 25 points from Bryant McIntosh and held the Badgers to 38 percent shooting in the upset.
The Wildcats have been up and down offensively and with rebounding, but they’ve been stellar defensively all season. Northwestern is second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (64.4 points per), first in field goal defense (39 percent), third in 3-point defense (32.4 percent), second in blocks (5.8 per) and 10th in steals (5.4). The Wildcats ranks near the bottom of the conference in rebounding and rebounding margin, however.
Offensively, Northwestern puts up 73.5 points per (eighth in Big Ten), shoots 43.3 percent from the floor (10th) and 35.3 percent from 3 (ninth). The Wildcats do can their free throws (77 percent, second in Big Ten), though, and rank third in scoring margin (plus 9.1 points) thanks in part to their defense. Northwestern also does not turn the ball over with McIntosh running the show, sitting first in the league with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The aforementioned junior point guard McIntosh is the best all-around lead guard in the Big Ten, boasting the ability to score; see the floor; handle the ball and defend. He ranks second on the squad at 14 points per game on 38.3-percent shooting, averages just under six assists per, has around a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (one of the conference’s best), and grabs about three a night. McIntosh, however, isn’t a particularly potent 3-point specialist, connecting at a 28.6 percent rate.
“He’s a very confident kid and always has been. He’s smart, has a great feel, and he can score at the rim; the floater; and he can make 3s,” Turgeon said. “And he’s tall enough to see over people and make passes. … He’s one of the best guards in the league – there’s no doubt about it.”
If the Wildcats were fortunate, they’d have their leading scorer teaming with McIntosh in the backcourt. But guard Scottie Lindsey will miss his fourth straight game due to illness and won’t suit up against Maryland. It’s a significant absence, because Lindsey’s a potent offensive threat who can finish at the rim and hit from the outside. Lindsey is putting up 15 a night on 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from range. He also racks up over four rebounds per, dishes out a couple assists and nabs a steal each time out.
Beyond McIntosh and Lindsey, Northwestern doesn’t typically start any other true guards, although freshman Isiah Brown rotates in quite a bit. Brown averages almost seven points on 33 percent from the field and 29 percent from range.
At wing, forward Vic Law is third on the squad at 13.5 points per game. He’s actually a more efficient 3-point shooter (43 percent) than he is from the field, proving to be the Wildcats’ most reliable deep threat. Law grabs six boards per, two assists per and picks up a steal each night as well.
Backup wing Nate Taphorn, who actually started against Wisconsin, is known as a sharpshooter. Taphorn only plays a handful of minutes every game, but he’s the team’s most effective shooter from range at 45 percent.
At forward, Sanjay Lumpkin scores seven point per game on 57 percent from the floor and 34 percent from distance. Lumpkin picks up 6.4 rebounds per too.
Finally, at center Derek Pardon leads the team at 8.0 rebounds and just under two blocks a game. His calling card is defense, although Pardon does sore eight points a night on 57.3 percent shooting
Another frontcourt presence to watch is forward Skelly Gavin, who rotates in and sees almost 20 minutes per game. Gavin usually has a couple buckets each time out, but he’s known as a rim protector. The 6-8 big records a block or two a night.
“Northwestern is coming off a huge win. This is the best team they’ve had since the ‘30s,” Turgeon said. “They have our attention. Our guys know what lies ahead. We’ll be ready tomorrow.”