If the Maryland men's basketball team's return to prominence this season can be tied to the arrival of Melo Trimble, so, too, can the Terps' recent slippage.
After leading Maryland to its first national ranking and the brink of its first NCAA tournament berth since 2010 by helping to topple No. 11 Iowa State and perennial Big Ten Conference power Michigan State — twice — the freshman point guard seemingly has lost his scoring touch over the past two weeks.
The Terps' past two games were a low point. Trimble did not make a shot from the field against No. 20 Ohio State (0-for-8) and Penn State (0-for-5), and his stretch of 14 straight missed field goals stretches back to an errant, last-second 3-pointer that senior guard Dez Wells miraculously banked in for the game-winner against Northwestern. After scoring at least 10 points in all but one of his first 21 games, he has just seven over the past two.
"I've never been through that experience," Trimble, smiling, told reporters before practice Friday.
Yet Trimble has adjusted. Starting with the second half of Wednesday's 64-58 home win over Penn State, Trimble started to look more like a traditional point guard than the combo guard he has been since high school.
That could prove significant for No. 7 Maryland (19-4, 7-3) as it prepares for Sunday's game at Iowa (14-8, 5-4) and heads toward March.
"Melo has that in him," coach Mark Turgeon said Friday. "He's a great passer. Sometimes you start to score and you forget about things. I think he gained a lot of confidence in his teammates in that game. We need him to play like that. And hopefully, it is going to open up some things for him down the road as we continue to improve offensively. … He made some unbelievable plays."
Trimble's evolution into a passer — he had a career-high eight assists and just one turnover in a team-high 35 minutes against the Nittany Lions — could lift the Terps out of their recent offensive doldrums. It also might help him break out of his own shooting slump.
"He was much more aggressive. We were much more aggressive in our play calling for him in the second half," Turgeon said Friday of Trimble, who had seven assists after halftime. "We felt we didn't use him the right way in the first half. We had to get him going, but he made all the right decisions. He didn't force things."
Joe Wootten, who coached Trimble for four years at Bishop O'Connell High in Arlington, Va., saw his former star make a similar adjustment toward the end of his junior year. As defenses increasingly focused on stopping Trimble, Wootten implored him to trust his teammates a little more.
"He can make adjustments," Wootten said Friday. "There are certain guys that can play only one way, and if somebody takes that away, they're kind of stuck. The fact that he can make adjustments means that he can play this game for quite some time."
What he did in the second half against Penn State — getting the ball to senior forward Jon Graham (16 points), who converted several easy layups in a career-best game, and to sophomore center Damonte Dodd (four points), who doubled his point total from the past three games — didn't go unnoticed by teammates.
"He's grown up. He's starting to see a different side of the game besides scoring," said senior guard Dez Wells, who scored 23 points in the win. "He's great. I look forward to seeing more from him."
Said Graham (Calvert Hall): "Teams are scouting him, so they're going to obviously lock in because they know he can score the ball. That's how good our team is. It's not just Melo; other guys are really good scorers and can score around the basket. Melo's done a good job of being a facilitator, and that makes our team that much more dynamic."
This isn't the first time this season Trimble has found his normally reliable jump shot failing him. Or the first time he has been successful in adjusting.
After Trimble started his career at Maryland by hitting just eight of his first 23 shots, including five of 15 3-pointers, Trimble went 7-for-11 overall and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in a career-high 31-point performance against Arizona State.
In his first five Big Ten games, Trimble missed 41 of 58 field goals before scoring 21 points in the first half and 24 overall in Maryland's home win over the Spartans. His recent drought came after scoring 27 points in the dramatic win over Northwestern.
That he is not scoring now as easily as he did earlier this season doesn't seem to bother Trimble.
"Just find another way to win," he said nonchalantly. "I don't really try to look to force my shots, stuff like that. If it takes me not scoring and getting my teammates involved, then that's what it is."