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Playing without Wells, Terps weather Monmouth rally and win, 61-56

COLLEGE PARK — The new motion offense the Maryland men's basketball team has used in getting off to its best start in eight years — and the best in four seasons under Mark Turgeon — was not the only thing with moving parts for the Terps Friday night against Monmouth.

The roster and the roles were in flux too.

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With senior guard Dez Wells out for a month after breaking his right wrist, and senior forward Evan Smotrycz returning after missing a little more than a month with a broken left foot, the Terps failed to find the cohesion, confidence and consistency they played with while winning the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City this week.

Maryland came out fast against Monnmouth, built a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes and eventually went up 16 late in the first half. From there, it was a struggle to put away the pesky Hawks, and the Terps needed some clutch free-throw shooting from freshman point guard Melo Trimble to pull out a 61-56 victory before an anxious announced crowd of 9.139 at Xfinity Center.

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As he did at in Kansas City, where he was named tournament MVP after scoring a career-high 31 points against Arizona State on Monday and directing the Terps' 72-63 upset of No. 13 Iowa State on Tuesday, Trimble led the way for Maryland (6-0).

Trimble finished with 24 points, and made 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch, including eight straight in the last 45 seconds to prevent Monmouth, which played West Virginia competitively in Morgantown in the season opener, from ruining Maryland's so-far perfect season.

The Terps play again Sunday against VMI.

"First of all I want to give Monmouth a lot of credit, I thought they were terrific, I thought they had a great game plan, they really defended, they had a lot of energy, they were scrappy, they never quit," Turgeon said. "They got down 14 and kept fighting, they got down 10 in the second half and they just kept fighting."

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The Terps kept trying to figure out how to play without Wells, their leading scorer (16.2 points per game) who was hurt sometime during the second half of Maryland's win over Iowa State. They missed the 6-foot-5 guard's explosive drives and energy, as well as what Turgeon called "his toughness."

Fortunatly for Maryland, it has Trimble, who is the emotional opposite of Wells and has already proven to be a calming influence over his older, more experienced teammates. What showed in the two victories at the Sprint Center was evident again Friday.

"He's a winner, he figures it out," Turgeon said. "He knew we had to win, he knew we had to have the ball in his hands and he knew he had to be at the foul line so he went and got the ball every time. That's what winners do. I was surprised he missed one, he's that good."

Said Trimble: "I"ve got a lot of confidence in myself, especially shooting free throws. I shot 100 free throws before today's game, I shot 87 for 100. Whenever it's a close game and we need free throws I always know I'm going to get the ball and take care of it."

Leading by 10 at halftime, the Terps couldn't seem to pull away from Monmouth (2-3). Still leading by 10 after a 3-point shot by freshman guard Jared Nickens with under five minutes left, Maryland watched as the Hawks kept hitting 3-pointers and free throws and pulled to 53-51 with 48 seconds left.

That's when Trimble kept going back against Monmouth's press, took one inbounds pass after another from junior forward Jake Layman (14 points) and kept swishing free throws. Just as he did against Arizona State, he finished 13 of 14 from the line.

"That was big-time for us," said Smotrycz, who finished with a team-high six rebounds and four points in 22 minutes. "He's the guy I want at the line shooting those big free throws for us. He proved it this past week and I'm sure he'll do it going forward, too."

As the Terps head toward Wednesday's showdown with No. 8 Virginia in their first matchup against an Atlantic Coast Conference team as a member of the Big Ten, Turgeon's team will have to find someone — or a few players — to help fill the void left by Wells.

Turgeon noticed during the first couple of timeouts that Wells, who normally brings the team together before it heads back on the court, was missing. Even after he returned for the second half, his right arm in a protective sling, the energy and excitement was missing.

"It was hard, I was really looking for Dez to be there, I knew if he was there he would give us energy we needed," Trimble said. "We needed to create our own energy without Dez, and it was tough. In Kansas City, I fed off his energy and tried to match it, so it was kind of hard."

Said Smotrycz: "It was kind of funky tonight and all that going on and there wasn't much energy in the building. Guys are still getting used it. They got to get used to me coming back and on top of that Dez leaving. It's a process and we'll get better moving forward."

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