ANN ARBOR, MICH. — For most of his junior year at Maryland, Jared Nickens has seemed to be stuck in a 3-point-shooting nightmare. The worse he shot, the less he played. The less he played, the worse he shot.
Considered a huge surprise as a freshman when he finished second on the team only to breakout star Melo Trimble in 3-pointers made (57) and 3-point percentage (39.0), Nickens never progressed.
Instead, the 6-foot-7 wing regressed – badly.
Coming into Saturday's game at Michigan, Nickens had made just 11 of 42 3-point attempts, and that was after a relatively productive stretch making five of 10 over his previous four games.
In a 77-70 win over the Wolverines at Crisler Center, Nickens hit all four shots he tried – all of them 3-pointers – to finish with a season-high 12 points in 17 minutes.
"It felt really good," Nickens said after his best game since scoring 14 points and hitting four of eight 3-point tries in Maryland's NCAA tournamen-opening win over South Dakota State last season. "I was in a good rhythm. My teammates did a good job of finding me."
Asked how tough this season has been, Nickens said, "I wouldn't say it's tough. As a player, things happen. There's a lot of ups and downs. I just tried to make sure I had the bigger picture in mind. It's not about me. It's about the Maryland basketball team as a whole."
Still, it was difficult to lose his starting job to freshman Justin Jackson after just one game, his minutes on the wing to freshman Kevin Huerter for most of the season and then see his playing time off the bench dwindle to single digits. He played just less than a minute against Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.
Slowly, Nickens started to work his way back into the rotation, understanding that his one-dimensional approach was making him a liability, particularly on the defensive end. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had a number of discussions with Nickens over the past two seasons.
"I was just focusing on the wrong things at the time," Nickens said. "I just had to clear my mind. … Putting all my energies toward offense, I realize I can't do that. Coach Turgeon sat me down and he told to keep working hard, good things will happen."
Nickens conceded that it became a mental game and he was his own opponent at times.
"I was just thinking about it too much. I was trapped in my own head," he said. "I just let it go. You just have to play harder on every possession, whether it's offense or defense."
His performance against the Wolverines was reminiscent of several he had as a freshman, including one in the NCAA tournament when he scored 14 off the bench in a tournament-opening win over Valparaiso in Columbus, Ohio.
"He made a lot of huge 3s as a freshman. It's good to see," Turgeon said Saturday. "Jared's been shooting like this in practice for a while. What I'm really proud of Jared? He was really dialed into the defensive game plan. He was talking, communicating. He's been doing that in practice."
Said Nickens, "I just tried to stay aware at all times on defense. I know that I can't focus in just on offense. Defense is really like the biggest part of the game."
Still, Nickens was out there because of his ability to stretch Michigan's defense. That helped open things up inside for Jackson (15 points) and Trimble, who hit four of his last six shots after missing eight of his first nine.
After the Wolverines tied the game at 14 in the first half, Nickens hit his first 3-pointer and then hit another to help the Terps build their lead to 11 late in the half. He hit two more in the second half with similar results.
"I just wanted to provide a spark off the bench," he said. "After I made the first one ... my teammates were so excited for me. They told me to just keep shooting. From there, they just kept finding me."
Trimble, who has been one of Nickens' closest friends since they arrived together two years ago, was excited for a player who got more attention for his viral "Running Man" Challenge video last year than for his play.
"Last week in practice, I told him, 'Don't pass up no more open shots. If you're a little bit open, shoot it. That's what you do. You've been doing it since you got here,'" Trimble said. "He's a shooter. Hopefully that'll give him a lot of confidence going into the next game."
Said Nickens, "I always stayed confident. I knew it would happen. I just wanted to stay true to who I am as a player. I kept to a solid routine the past six weeks and I am going to keep the same routine moving forward."