Terps basketball coach Mark Turgeon along with several key players on Maryland's 68-66 win over Big Ten rival Indiana. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The grind of a college basketball season and the grit of the Big Ten Conference had seemingly caught up with 19th-ranked Maryland in recent weeks.
Going into Wednesday night's game against Indiana, the Terps had lost badly on three straight road trips, including Sunday's 16-point defeat at Iowa. Mark Turgeon's team had also barely won at home against the league's bottom-feeders, including needing a last-second shot from senior guard Dez Wells to beat Northwestern.
On top of the mental strain, the Terps were also struggling physically. Not only had Wells and senior forward Evan Smotrycz been slow to regain their form from last season after suffering injuries, but freshman point guard Melo Trimble had quietly been playing for more than a month with back and leg pain.
That made Maryland's 68-66 victory over the Hoosiers all the more crucial as the Terps (20-5, 8-5 Big Ten) prepare to head to Penn State on Saturday.
The win over Indiana (17-8, 7-5) — the Terps' most impressive victory since they defeated Michigan State at Xfinity Center on Jan. 17 — took some pressure off the team.
"I was saying before the game that a win like this can turn a season around for a team," junior forward Jake Layman said after Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell missed two shots in the last six seconds, allowing Terps to survive. "I think right now we're feeling good about ourselves. We've just to keep pushing and trying to get better."
Trimble was certainly feeling — and looking — better than he had in a while. Turgeon disclosed after the victory Wednesday that his rising star had been playing hurt for "about three games."
It was actually a lot longer. Trimble said that his back "went out" during a shootaround prior to the team's first Big Ten game, a double-overtime win at Michigan State on Dec. 30. That eventually led to shooting pain down Trimble's left leg, which caused him to struggle off and on.
"Since then it hasn't been the same," Trimble said. "I'm feeling a lot better than I was. The trainer said I would have my up and down days. It's starting to get better."
Trimble's shooting touch is starting to return, too.
After going two straight games without a field goal, and missing 14 straight shots overall, Trimble scored 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting (hitting all three of his 3-pointers) in the loss at Iowa and then added 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting (2 of 4 on 3-pointers) against Indiana.
"The game Sunday I was making a lot of shots, made some 3's, that's kind of what I needed," Trimble said Wednesday. "To have a game like that gave me a lot of confidence. I know how it feels to see the ball go through the net."
Turgeon has been trying to get his players to relax and have fun, rather than coming out looking to protect their ranking and their possible seeding in the NCAA tournament.
The win over Indiana could be just what the Terps need as they finish the regular season with a favorable schedule that includes road games to Penn State, Rutgers and Nebraska, and home games against the Cornhuskers, Michigan and a big showdown with No. 7 Wisconsin on Feb. 24.
"I think this makes us stronger," Trimble said. "This was a tough win. We were down at some points [the last time at 48-47 with 9:28 remaining]. fFor us to get a win like this really shows that our confidence is back and our swagger is back and we're ready to go on the road."
Said Wells: "We just have to take it one game at a time. This is a really, really big win for us. We've done a really good job of protecting our home [7-0 in the Big Ten]. We want to continue doing down down the stretch. We have a big game against a hungry team in Penn State. We have to come ready to play and prepare mentally."
Turgeon said he saw signs Wednesday of his team heeding his advice to have fun and relax as if it was playing in the park.
"I thought we played that way tonight. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can focus in," Turgeon said. "Guys are feeling better. Our execution was better. This is a tough week, three games in six days. I hope they're more relaxed and ready to make a run."