The Maryland basketball team’s most efficient half of the season did not feature any points from junior Melo Trimble. The team’s leading scorer didn’t even attempt a shot during the first 20 minutes of a 66-56 win over Saint Peter’s on Saturday at Xfinity Center, which made his team’s offensive production all the more staggering.
By the time Trimble took his first shot with 55 seconds elapsed in the second half, it only made sense that he drilled it. His three-pointer from the left wing made it 44-20, but that was the last trace of a dominant afternoon.
For the next 19 minutes, Maryland lost focus and played perhaps its sloppiest half of the season, allowing Saint Peter’s to pull within 10 in the final minutes. While Maryland had built enough of a cushion to become the first 10-win team in the Big Ten, it was an embarrassing letdown that overshadowed 19 points by forward Justin Jackson and a career-high 14 points by fellow freshman Kevin Huerter.
“Up to this point, we’ve had trouble starting games off good,” said Huerter, who has been instrumental in helping Maryland (10-1) rally in the second half for six wins by six points or less this season. “Today we finally had a good first half. And then we didn’t have a good second half. So we still have to work to put together 40 minutes. We just didn’t come out with energy in the second half.”
Coach Mark Turgeon’s postgame news conference was more befitting a soul-crushing loss than a 10-point win over a middling Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team. His tie was loosened, and he spoke in a somber tone. The session lasted just 5:11, mostly covering how disappointed he was with game’s the final 15 minutes. For as thrilled as Turgeon is with his team’s record through 11 games, it remained clear Saturday how much the Terrapins still need to clean up with Big Ten play quickly approaching.
It was also clear that Trimble, who has worked diligently to refine his outside jumper this week, wanted to focus on facilitating for his teammates from the onset. The junior guard’s first assist came 52 seconds into the game on a pick-and-roll flip to junior center Michal Cekovsky (eight points), and he later added assists on three-pointers by Jackson and Huerter as Maryland built a 14-0 lead. The hot shooting seeped into the defensive end, where Maryland swarmed as Saint Peter’s missed its first 10 shots. The Peacocks didn’t hit their first field goal until 11:56 remained in the first half.
“That’s why we had a really good first half because no one really forced stuff. We just got the best shot, and we just played good defense,” freshman guard Anthony Cowan said.
Maryland shot 68 percent from the field, had assists on 10 of its 13 field goals, hit five three-pointers and committed just five turnovers in building a 22-point lead at the half. The Terrapins also held the Peacocks (4-5) to a season-low 18 points before intermission.
But while Trimble was praised for facilitating and taking a back seat offensively — he finished with five points on just four shots and four assists against no turnovers — perhaps he needed to be more of a presence in the second half. Maryland shot just 28 percent from the field, including 2 for 10 from three-point range, committed six turnovers and was lulled to sleep by long, methodical possessions by Saint Peter’s. Maryland took a 56-33 lead on a three-point play by Jackson with 8:13 remaining, but was outscored 23-10 the rest of the way.
“It was kind of a boring game. They were using 30 seconds even though they were down 20, 25, and our guys kind of got caught up into it,” Turgeon said.
The lapse came just a day after Turgeon told reporters that his message since Wednesday was for his team to play harder. He has included as many as 11 players in his rotation over the first month of the season, and on Saturday 10 players logged 11 minutes or more, led by Cowan and Huerter with 27. Those days could be numbered.
“I’ll take the blame,” Turgeon said. “I tried to play everyone equal. It’s not equal opportunity anymore moving forward. But I tried to give everyone a chance, and guys lost rhythm because of it.”
Turgeon made clear that the bipolar performance was not a result of the inexperience of the freshmen. He has been trying to create more offensive opportunities for Huerter, who has established himself as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders but has yet to bust out on the other end. He started Saturday by hitting his first three three-pointers, all in the first half, using fluid movements without the ball to get open looks on passes from Cowan and Trimble.
Then there was Jackson, who finished 6 for 8 from the field and continued to solidify himself as the team’s most versatile scorer. But while Jackson put together two solid halves — he scored nine of his 19 points over the final 20 minutes — the rest of the team didn’t follow suit. An afternoon that began with such energy ended with the team sullen as it retreated to the locker room, where a frustrated Turgeon wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
“I thought we played a great first half . . . in the second half we were the exact opposite,” Turgeon said. “We just didn’t finish the game.”