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Terps' backcourt tandem of Trimble, Sulaimon is starting to jell

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland basketball team, then ranked third in the country, looked out of sync for long stretches against Rider and Georgetown at home this month, especially the newly formed starting backcourt of sophomore Melo Trimble and senior transfer Rasheed Sulaimon.

Trimble appeared to be tentative, trying to show that he could be a pass-first point guard waiting until the final, frantic minutes of two second-half comebacks to take over. Trimble had often attacked from the opening tip last season in becoming the first freshman point guard since 2008 to be named first-team All-Big Ten.

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"I was listening to what people were saying," Trimble said this week. "[Scoring] doesn't matter as long as we win; I just want to win. I think I have been a little tight, worrying about the passing and stuff like that. I've just got to be myself."

Sulaimon was often the opposite, keeping the Terps in the games early and, with the exception of a couple of big 3-pointers against both Georgetown and Rider, seemingly forcing things a bit in the latter stages. If anything, the Duke transfer looked like he was still adjusting to his new team.

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"Chemistry and just learning how to play with a new group of guys, it takes time. I still feel we have a lot to get better on and grow. I feel the potential of this team," Sulaimon said Wednesday after helping the Terps win the Cancun Challenge tournament in Mexico over Illinois State and Rhode Island.

The backcourt tandem and their teammates return to Xfinity Center to take on Cleveland State at 7:30 Saturday night.

"I think Rasheed and Melo have a chance to be the best backcourt in the country, as they grow together defensively and sharing the basketball," Turgeon said this week. "They're the reason we're winning these close games because they feed off of each other."

And just as the now-No. 2 Terps appeared to finally click in Wednesday's 86-63 win over the Rams in the championship game at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, so did their backcourt. In leading their team to its most impressive win of the season, Trimble and Sulaimon were a nearly perfect tandem.

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Trimble, who was named the tournament's MVP, finished with 17 points and didn't miss a shot, hitting all seven of his field goals and all three of his free throws, to go along with six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Sulaimon missed only the last of his seven shots, also scoring 17, with two assists.

Trimble is averaging similar numbers to those he did as a freshman, with his scoring average (16.2) and his assist total (4.2 compared to 3.0) going up after getting 11 in Mexico. Trimble gave his new road roommate Sulaimon credit for helping him adjust to being the floor leader of one of the country's top teams.

"He's been through it when he was at Duke," Trimble said. "I'm new to it. He just talks to me a lot about being a leader and being a better point guard. He gives me confidence, he says that I'm the best point guard that there is in the country and I go off of what he says. He's just a great person to be around."

Asked what Sulaimon gives the Terps, Trimble said, "Energy, leadership and defense. I see how much pride he takes in playing defense and that's something I have to get used to, because that's what I want to do, be a great defender. ... I just go off the way he plays and brings energy to the game."

Sulaimon also brings versatility, backing up Trimble at the point and sharing ballhandling responsibilities at times while typically defending the top opposing backcourt scorer. Sulaimon is averaging 12.2 points, 3.6 assists and 3 rebounds in a team-high 33.2 minutes a game. He leads the Terps in 3-point shooting at 54.5 percent (12 of 22).

Similar to former Maryland star Dez Wells, Sulaimon is one of the only Terps to show his emotions and play with a little bit of an edge.

"He plays with a chip on his shoulder," said Trimble, who rarely changes his expression. "He was in a bad situation last year, and I think this year he wants to redeem himself and do great things for this team. He knows we have the weapons and the talent and we just have to come together and do it."

Said Sulaimon, "Melo's an easy guy to play with, his scoring ability, people already know how much he can score the ball. His passing ability has really grown tremendously. He's not that vocal but he leads by example. When he says something, everyone listens."

Even before his performance in Mexico, Turgeon said of Trimble, "I think he's doing a nice job. The zone [by Rider] kind of threw him out of kilter the other night, but I think he's become a much better point guard and in the end it's going to help our team.

"It might be a progression for him, but it is a really good progression. It's going to help him play down the road. He's doing all the right steps, he's seeing the floor a lot better. We know when the game is on the line, he needs to do what he did in the Georgetown game. It's all going to help us."

Sulaimon compares his relationship to Trimble with that of the rest of his new teammates.

"I didn't get here until August, and we're just kind of figuring it out as a team," he said. "My relationship with Melo as well as everyone is starting to get better. It's going to continue to grow and start to blossom. We just have to continue to get better and learn everyone's strengths and weaknesses."

Saturday's game begins at 7:30 p.m., after being originally scheduled for 8:30.

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