COLLEGE PARK — On the same night junior guard Melo Trimble played what turned out to be his final game at Maryland, three of his freshman teammates stood in a quiet locker room at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., after a Round of 64 loss to Xavier in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
While Trimble talked at a corner stall about the 11-point loss and whether he would return for his senior year, the freshmen had a pretty good idea that the team’s leading scorer for each of his three seasons would be opting out to embark on his professional career.
Each of them — point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., wing Kevin Huerter and forward Justin Jackson — also had the notion that they would become the leaders on the 2017-18 team, and would be asked to go from the supporting cast to featured roles.
On Friday night, when the Terps open the season against Stony Brook at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, the focus is not going to be on one player, as it often was during Trimble’s final season and throughout his storied college career.
The spotlight, like the ball, will be shared more consistently.
Not only do the three sophomores expect Maryland to be different from the team a year ago, when a program-best 20-2 start evaporated with seven defeats in the last 11 games, but they expect the Terps to be better offensively despite the loss of one of the most clutch shooters in school history.
“I think a lot of times last year we kind of got one-dimensional,” Huerter said at Media Day last week. “We would run different sets, wouldn’t really look for much and then just kick it out to Melo, do a high ball screen and everyone would flatten out to the corners.”
Then, as the 30-second shot clock dipped into single digits, they’d hope Trimble would make a seemingly impossible drive through traffic or make a big 3-pointer, as he often did throughout a career that produced more than its share of magic moments.
While the pick-and-roll will still be a staple of Maryland’s offense this season, the difference is that the Terps have more players they will be counting on and more of an inside game with the addition of 6-foot-10 freshman Bruno Fernando.
“That will make us tougher to guard going into this year because we’ll be able to play inside-out. We’ll have different stuff to run than teams practicing how to guard a ball screen,” said Huerter, who is expected to be used as both a scorer and passer.
“We can beat you at any position. We can go big with Bruno, Ceko [Michal Cekovsky], Ivan [Bender], Sean [Obi], Josh [Tomaic] in there, too. Then we’ll be able to go small, bring different guards off the bench. I think we’ll be a lot deeper, a lot of different ways to beat you.”
Coach Mark Turgeon, who will be starting his seventh season at Maryland, knows that many are wondering what the Terps will look like without Trimble, who helped Maryland go to three straight NCAA tournaments and compile a 79-24 record.
“I think our system will look the same,” Turgeon said at Media Day. “We’re trying some different things like our small guard lineup. Kevin is going to be more involved. I think late last year he was pretty involved. I think everybody, like Anthony and Justin, will get more opportunities.”
In several of Maryland’s Big Ten losses, Trimble’s teammates looked for him to shoot or make a play, especially as games got tight at the end. While he made big shots to beat Michigan State and Ohio State, he missed big ones, too.
An example came at the end of a 67-65 defeat to Nebraska in early January at Xfinity Center. After Huerter’s hot shooting helped the Terps build a 12-point lead in the second half, the Cornhuskers scored the last 14 points. On his team’s final three possessions, Trimble made a crucial turnover and missed the last two shots.
Huerter, who had scored a career-high 26 points that game by going 7-for-11 on 3-point shots, concedes now that the team figured Trimble would rescue it after doing it so often earlier in the season in wins over Georgetown, Richmond and Kansas State.
“You keep going back to what’s working,“ Huerter said at Media Day. “We had a lot of confidence in him down the stretch.”
Huerter believes he and his fellow sophomores would have taken that next step had Trimble returned.
“Even if he was here, a lot of guys put a lot of time this offseason and worked really hard, so I think all of us would have looked to have expanded roles, with or without him,” said Huerter, who played on the U.S.national Under-19 team over the summer.
Bender, a redshirt junior forward who has been called by Turgeon as well as many of his teammates as Maryland’s most improved player on this year’s team, said there has been a different feel at preseason practices.
“I feel like it’s changed. We don’t have that guy who we know he’s going to take last shot,” Bender said. “One game can be Kevin, one game can be Justin, one game can be Anthony or whoever. The thing I like about this team, it’s not about one guy; it’s about all 15 guys.”
Cowan, who led the team in scoring in a closed scrimmage against Wake Forest two weeks ago and in last week’s 88-44 exhibition win over Division III Randolph-Macon, said sharing the leadership with his fellow sophomores takes some pressure off.
Many forget that Cowan was the team’s starting point guard for all 33 of its games a year ago no matter how much Trimble seemed to have the ball in his hands. This year he will get help running the team from Huerter, Jackson and freshman Darryl Morsell [Mount Saint Joseph].
“I think it helps a lot,” Cowan said. “Kevin being the smart player that he is, me just playing off him, and Justin being who Justin is, being a scorer, being a rebounder, getting better defending, it definitely helps having them with me.”
The addition of Fernando, Obi and 6-4 guard Morsell, who scored 14 points against Randoph-Macon, has given the Terps a defensive intensity they’ve lacked at times in recent years.
“What I’ve seen in Darryl is how good he is on defense. He plays with a lot of intensity. People don’t really see how athletic he is until he gets on the break,” Cowan said. "Bruno brings a lot of inside presence, which we haven’t really had or Coach Turgeon never really had except for probably [former center] Diamond [Stone].”
Jackson, whose decision to return for his sophomore year after going to the NBA scouting combine with Trimble last spring, could ultimately be Maryland’s go-to guy on offense based on how difficult a matchup he can be because of his size, length and ability to put the ball on the floor.
Closer to Trimble in personality because of his quiet nature, Jackson said he is happy to have others with whom he shares the leadership role.
“When you have leaders and guys that generally want to help you, guys like Dion [Wiley], guys like Kevin, guys like Jared [Nickens] that have been through that already, [it helps],” Jackson said. “I’m thankful for guys like that. I feel we have situational leaders because guys lead in different ways.”
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
Friday, 7 p.m.
Video: Big Ten Network Plus
Radio: 105.7 FM
AT A GLANCE
Projected finish: Tied for fifth in the Big Ten
Nonconference game to watch: Nov. 27 at Syracuse. After playing decent competition (St. Bonaventure and either Texas Christian or New Mexico) in the Emerald Classic in Niceville, Fla., over Thanksgiving weekend, the Terps have to trek up to Syracuse to play the Orange at the Carrier Dome. While Jim Boeheim’s team isn’t projected to be an Atlantic Coast Conference contender, the combination of the quick turnaround, the travel, the setting and Syracuse’s suffocating 2-3 zone will be a challenge for the Terps.
Best-case scenario: Maryland stays healthier than it‘s been the past couple of years at key positions; freshmen Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell as well as graduate transfer Sean Obi give the Terps the toughness they have lacked; and sophomores Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan Jr. take a huge step. If that happens, Maryland will likely finish in the top three in the Big Ten and be no worse than a sixth seed in the NCAA tournament.
Worst-case scenario: Mark Turgeon’s deepest team in his seven years is compromised by injuries, and the Terps can’t find a go-to guy (or even a committee of go-to guys) to replace Melo Trimble. It’s hard to see this team not in the NCAA tournament, but if the Terps get worn down by injuries, they might wind up as a bubble team come March.
Did you know? Senior center Michal Cekovsky and redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic attended the Canaris Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands for high school. While Cekovsky wound up there after leaving his native Slovakia, Tomaic began attending after his mother moved to the Canary Islands when he was much younger. Tomaic was on the tennis and scuba diving teams as well as the basketball team.