Maryland guard Melo Trimble didn’t look as if he wanted to leave Verizon Center after Friday night’s 72-64 loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. He was still in his sweaty uniform about a half-hour after the final buzzer, the face of the program still serving as something of a spokesman after this latest baffling setback. He sat in his stall next to the showers in the locker room, the dripping water audible through the hushed silence of his packing teammates.
Trimble tried to explain how Maryland blew a 10-point lead in the second half. He tried to rationalize a scoring drought that lasted more than six minutes and helped fuel a pivotal 20-2 run by the Wildcats in the final 20 minutes. He tried to articulate the pain of losing a de facto home game, which began with thousands of fans roaring as Trimble was introduced in the starting lineup before tip-off.
By the end, as Friday night turned into Saturday morning, there was nothing really left for Trimble to say. This has been a season defined by both close wins and bewildering meltdowns. Friday night was the latter, leaving Maryland facing an agonizing wait for Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show. The Terrapins are projected to be in the 7-seed range by several bracketologists, although Trimble is more concerned with helping reset his team’s psyche and prepare it for a potential run beginning next week.
“We’re just going to go back home and see where we get placed at in the selection show and work from there. Start over and hopefully regroup,” said Trimble, who finished with 20 points, four assists and six turnovers.
On Saturday morning, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon tweeted out his appreciation for the home crowd that had energized Verizon Center.
Thank you to all of our fans who came to support us last night. The atmosphere was fantastic. We appreciate you #TerpNation!
— Mark Turgeon (@CoachTurgeon) March 11, 2017
Turgeon had used the platform earlier this week to express his frustration with the omission of his three freshmen — Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson — from the all-Big Ten rookie team. That seemed to light a fire early for the youngsters. Huerter was stellar for much of the first half, finishing with 12 of his 19 points, while Cowan dueled Northwestern point guard Bryant McIntosh and the versatile Jackson helped patch over a frontcourt in foul trouble.
But that trio struggled for much of the second half. Huerter struggled to get open looks as Northwestern sat on top of Maryland’s offensive sets. Cowan hit two crucial three-pointers but also had five turnovers. Jackson, the team’s second-leading scorer, only finished with two points. That left Trimble, who admittedly was far from perfect himself, believing he could draw on his previous two postseason misfortunes to help guide his younger teammates throughout the next week.
“We have no choice but to forget about this loss now,” Cowan said. “We have to get right back to the books.”
It won’t stop there. Turgeon found himself harping on his team’s lack of toughness on Friday night (Maryland was out-rebounded 32-24 and committed 14 turnovers), something that has become a trend at different points late in the season. Huerter echoed that sentiment and simply said the Terrapins “were out-toughed.”
Players weren’t cutting hard enough. Turnovers piled up in the backcourt. Seven free throws were missed. Maryland quickly fell out of its up-tempo pace and looked predictable offensively in the second half, when it shot just 41.7 percent from the field. It all spilled over to missed assignments on the defensive end.
“We were just kind of going through the motions a little bit. Stay on them to keep getting through it. I mean, just couldn’t find any consistency with our offense. Of course, we had the big drought. That was really the game,” Turgeon said. “This time of year, your defense has to be consistent and your offense has to be consistent … when we weren’t going well offensively, we stopped guarding.”
Turgeon briefly reminded everyone after the loss about how much his team had overachieved this season, about how much he had loved coaching this group. But there was a certain finality in the message to his team in the locker room afterward. He told them they would return to “practice plan number one” once they returned to work in College Park to begin preparation for the NCAA tournament. Trimble is confident that can help light another fire, but time is quickly running out.
“Coach Turgeon said we have another tournament left … we have a bigger tournament,” Trimble said. “This loss should motivate us to do better next weekend.”