Fits in their start
COLLEGE PARK — This was supposed to be a fresh start for a Maryland men’s basketball team that featured several new faces, including two freshmen who started Friday night’s season opener against American.
While the newcomers all made contributions at different junctures, it was a familiar face — and his familiar game — who led the No. 25 Terps back from a late deficit to a 62-56 victory over the gritty Eagles at Xfinity Center.
Junior guard Melo Trimble, who struggled with a nagging hamstring injury for the second half of last season, finished with a game-high 22 points, including a layup Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM with a little over a minute left after American had climbed to within three.
“Coach [Mark] Turgeon trusted me in that situation, and my teammates did as well,” Trimble said. “I knew it was my time to take over and just lead the team to a win. Not just my points, but me leading the team out there.”
Freshman Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 12 points and — even more impressive for a 6-foot, 170-pound guard — collected nine rebounds, sharing game-high honors with fellow freshman Justin Jackson. Freshman wing Kevin Huerter hit two big 3-pointers late in the game while adding six rebounds and a blocked shot. Cowan and Huerter started in their debuts.
“We started them because of who we’re playing, injuries, where we are [as a team] … and I thought they were playing the best of our guards” at the end, Turgeon said. “When I looked down my bench, it wasn’t like an assistant was yelling, ‘Take the young guys out.’ I never heard that.”
Cowan and Huerter became the first two Maryland freshmen to start in the same season opener since Joe Smith and Keith Booth did so against Georgetown in 1993-94. They, along with Jackson and graduate transfer L.G. Gill, were on the
floor for the last few minutes.
Trimble, who recalled having nerves in his college debut two years ago against Wagner, said it was understandable for the new additions to feel the same. After returning for another season, Trimble acknowledged he also had some pregame butterflies.
“I was a bit nervous myself. I was excited to get out there,” said Trimble, who hit nine of 19 attempts from the field but missed all four of his 3-point tries. “We just had to relax and be aggressive.”
As for the newcomers, Trimble said he noticed that he was playing with four of them down the stretch: Gill, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, as well as the three freshmen.
“I knew those guys could do it,” Trimble said. “I know it’s the first game of the season, so the next game, they’ll be more poised and more relaxed.”
Turgeon said he believed it was the first time he had ever started two freshmen in a season opener in his 17 seasons as a Division I head coach, but conceded that the lineup might change for Tuesday’s game against Georgetown at Verizon Center in Washington.
“It’s a guessing game,” Turgeon said of his rotation. “I looked up [at the end of the game], and there were four [newcomers] and Melo on the floor. I really must believe in this group.”
That was the case Friday, as Turgeon turned to the freshmen and Gill when several upperclassmen struggled.
Senior center Damonte Dodd, the team’s only legitimate big man until junior Michal Cekovsky returns after missing the opener with a foot injury, collected two early fouls and played 11 minutes. Dodd finished with three points, no rebounds and no blocked shots against the smaller Eagles.
Junior wing Jared Nickens, who appeared to be coming out of a season-long sophomore shooting slump when he scored17 points in the preseason game last week against Division II Catawba, missed all five shots he attempted, four of them 3-pointers. He failed to score in 15 minutes.
Redshirt sophomore guard Dion Wiley, who missed last season with a torn meniscus, looked rusty, missing five of the six shots he tried in 12 minutes.
The Terps committed18 turnovers, with only seven assists. Only a difference in rebounding (44 to 22) and free-throw shooting (18-for-25 compared to 4-for-5 for American) helped Maryland avoid an openingnight upset.
Asked what contributed to the sloppiness, Trimble was blunt.
“Everybody was trying to play one-on-one, being a little selfish,” said Trimble, who committed as many turnovers as he had assists (four). “I give it the first game, because in practice, we don’t turn the ball over. We run for turnovers. I know we’re going to get better.”
“We figured out how to win,” Turgeon said. “We slowed it down, we executed better. … We rebounded great. We just have to play a little better offensively together.”
Maryland’s Melo Trimble scores inside against American during the first half of the Terps’ season opener in College Park. Trimble, a junior, led Maryland with 22 points, but the team struggled with turnovers in its only game before facing Georgetown on Tuesday.
The Terps’ L.G. Gill, right, defends inside as American’s Mark Gasperini looks to shoot during the second half.