COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Say this for junior point guard Melo Trimble: He can close. For the last three years, with the game on the line and time winding down, it’s Trimble head coach Mark Turgeon and the Terps want to dominate the ball.
Thus was the case once again March 5 in Xfinity Center, the final regular season game before tournament play. With the game knotted at 60 and six seconds remaining against Michigan State, Trimble drove the floor; pulled up from outside the arc; and nailed a buzzer-beating triple overtop Spartans defender Tum Tum Nairn. Trimble fell to the floor and pulled his jersey over his head, while his teammates enveloped him and the Xfinity Center crowd entered a state of bedlam.
“I wasn’t thinking anything at the time,” said Trimble, who finished with 16 points, six rebounds and two assists. “I wasn’t sure if the game was over or not, and they put time back on the clock, so I couldn’t celebrate for too long. It was just exciting, everyone just screaming.
“[But hitting clutch shots] is just confidence and believing in yourself. Coach Turgeon believed in me and I believed in myself, and that’s what it’s about.”
Well, Turgeon did believe in Trimble, but maybe not so much his 3-point stroke. If it were up to the headman, he’d of had the point guard drive the lane and try to draw a foul, or drive and dish to an open jump shooter.
“I told Melo to drive it. He shot the 3. He made it,” Turgeon said. “I told the refs they’re going to foul Melo [if he drives], but he pulls up and makes the 3. But I was really happy for Melo to make that shot and get it done.”
After the game, Trimble joked that Turgeon's words went in one ear and out the other during Maryland's timeout. That was the second time Trimble’s done that at the end of regulation, with the first occurrence coming last Jan. 9 in Madison, Wisc. Trimble was instructed to drive against Wisconsin too, but instead stopped and drained a game-winning 3.
“I did the same thing [against the Badgers],” Trimble said, smirking. “I heard [Turgeon] kind of say drive to the basket and maybe find an open teammate. But I kind of blocked that out and said, ‘Shoot a 3.’ I think of myself as a great shooter, and I felt I was in a rhythm. I made it.”
Senior center Damonte Dodd, who was playing his final home game, said he immediately thought back to the Badgers’ bout last season. Dodd never had a doubt the result would be the same March 5.
“It reminded me of Wisconsin. I was like, ‘I think he’s going to pull up.’ And he came down and knocked it in,” Dodd said. “It was big time and a great way to send me and LG [Gill] out of here. It was a big-time shot.”
More than just a big-time shot, per Trimble. He said of all the moments he’s had at Maryland – and there have been plenty, including 30-point efforts; double-doubles; and defining victories in the last two Big Ten tournaments – the victory against Michigan State is No. 1.
“This ranks first,” Trimble said. “This is our last game here this season, it was sold out and we’d lost two straight at home. The crowd was into it the whole game, but we could’ve put our heads down because a lot of things weren’t going our way. But we fought the whole game and were able to pull out the win.”
Maybe Trimble would change his answer if he really sat down and pondered his career. But MSU head coach Tom Izzo would probably agree with the veteran floor general's assessment. Izzo was about as effusive in his praise for Trimble as an opposing coach can be towards a foe.
“In money time their superstar, not only did he score baskets, but he made plays. He had some great assists, and he had hockey assists, dragging people with him,” Izzo said. “And at the end of the game a great player made a great play. That’s what veteran guys do, and that’s what I told my team after the game. I don’t have one of those [veterans] right now.”
After the game, Izzo approached Trimble in the handshake line. The coach let the player know how much of a fan he is of the Maryland star’s ability, demeanor and presence.
“[Trimble] stirred the drink, but now he’s stirred it, made it and drank it,” Izzo said. “It’s kind of fun this day and age to see a kid actually growing. That’s going to benefit him. I respect what he’s done. I didn’t want to say hello to him in the line because I was mad what he did to me, but I respect him.”
Said Trimble: “That means a lot to me. I played against him for three years, and before college you always hear about Coach Izzo and Michigan State. And when I first played against him I was really nervous. I’ve grown as a player and matured, but I know he’s a really good coach and he always has a really good offensive and defensive plan against us.”
Izzo and Trimble have squared off a half-dozen times the last three seasons, giving MSU’s coach plenty of perspective. But Turgeon has been with Trimble nearly every day since 2014, and has known him for much longer than that.
The Terps’ headman reflected on his relationship with Trimble and the guard’s growth during his time in College Park. Trimble has drawn Turgeon's ire at times, and even this season the point guard has forced the issue offensively and taken his share of criticism for doing too much. But, at his core, Trimble's a winner, and it's something Turgeon has never failed to recognize.
“Think about where we were before Melo got here. We were 17-14 or whatever we were, and we’ve won a lot since,” Turgeon said. “I’m just really happy for him. Everything is on his plate with three freshmen. But he’s just a great kid, he’s humble and he loves his teammates. He sacrifices for his teammates, and that says a lot about who he is. [Melo] hasn’t changed a bit since he’s been here. It’s just great, man.”
Izzo commented on Trimble’s growth too, noting the Terps’ junior has matured considerably since he first coached against him. The MSU headman also said Trimble’s come a long way as a player.
“Hats off to him for sticking around and making sure he got better each year. I think the job he’s done with those young guys is something I really appreciate as a coach in the Big Ten and as a fan of college basketball,” Izzo said. “A lot of credit to Melo and what he stands for. I’m a fan. I think a lot of people look at what he’s doing, and he’s done it the right way. No matter what he decides to do [with going to the NBA or not], I’m a fan.”
While walking off the floor March 5, Trimble, smile etched on his face, turned to the student-section. He heard loud and clear their chants: “One more year.” Trimble isn’t focusing on his NBA prospects right now, but, if he does leave college a year early, he sure gave the fans a brilliant closing act.
“I was just focused on the win. We’d lost two straight and it was a bad feeling. So to come out and get the win felt great. I was happy for my teammates, and now we can move on to next week and the double-bye,” Trimble said. “We feel great. After this win we did some things we normally don’t do. We danced in the locker room. And it gave us confidence, and we feel relief now. But now everyone is back to 0-0 and we’re all in the Big Ten tournament. We still have work to do.”