Melo Trimble returned to Williams Arena on Saturday against Minnesota carrying the painful memory of one of his worst games in a Maryland men's basketball uniform.
It was not just how poorly he shot in last year's 68-63 loss to the then-hapless Gophers — 3-for-11 overall, including an air ball with two minutes left and his team trailing by a point.
It was not just his questionable decision-making — six turnovers, including two in the final 1:24 that cost the then-No. 6 Terps the game to a team that had yet to win in the Big Ten.
It was also the pain of playing with a tender hamstring, something Trimble did for much of the Big Ten season and contributed to Maryland losing four of its final six regular season games to finish in a disappointing tie for third.
All that pain dissolved in the second half of an 85-78 victory Saturday. While freshmen Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter were the finishers — combining for 47 points, including a career-high 28 for Jackson — Trimble was the facilitator.
Trimble didn't get his first assist until more than 12 minutes into the game. But he finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and a season-high nine assists — the most he has had in a Big Ten game in his career.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said that Trimble's ability to find his teammates — along with his impressive reputation — helped open things up for others.
"You've got to game plan for him," Turgeon said after the Terps moved to 19-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten, including 4-0 in conference road games. "I think the shooting opened things up for our [pick-and-roll] guy to get layups. And then Melo just made the right decisions."
It is part of Trimble's growing trust in teammates, particularly in Huerter and Jackson, as well as redshirt sophomore forward Ivan Bender, whose ability to catch the ball and finish (eight points on 4-for-5 shooting) was effective in the pick-and-roll.
After the home win over Rutgers on Tuesday, Trimble acknowledged that he got caught up trying to do too much — "hero shots," he called them — and that contributed to him committing five of Maryland's 18 turnovers. On Saturday, the Terps committed seven, a season-low.
"I've been around here long enough to know that when other players are hitting, just keep giving them the ball," Trimble said. "That's what I did the second half. When the shot was there for me, I took it. When it wasn't, I didn't force anything and I just played within our offense."
It was only the sixth time in his career that Trimble committed no turnovers in a game, and the third time in 48 Big Ten games.
"Thank God for no turnovers," he said with a smile.
Huerter and Jackson both appreciated Trimble's assists, since both have been point guards at various stages of their careers. Trimble has steadily evolved to this point of his career, and he will likely be asked to do more facilitating going forward.
"That's just the sign of a good leader," said Huerter, who finished with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting, five 3-pointers, to go along with three assists and no turnovers. "We know he's always aggressive toward the ends of games when we need him to be. Today there were different looks, and he just found the open guy."
Freshman Anthony Cowan added five assists and no turnovers.
"Thankfully, Melo and a lot of the guards...found me and I was knocking down shots," said Jackson, who finished 9-for-15 shooting, including making all five of his 3-pointers.
Maryland shot 20-of-31 overall in the second half, and 7-for-9 on 3-pointers.
"Really, it's just belief," Jackson said. "We have a lot of great players, a lot of great shooters on our team. We believe in each other and we just keep finding each other for open looks, whether the shots fall or not. Each night it might vary, so you never know. Keep shooting and keep shooting."
For the Terps to be successful this season, Trimble needs to keep leading. That includes encouraging players such as Jackson and Huerter, in order to help them build confidence.
"Just do what you do best," Trimble said. "Don't overthink anything. To Kevin, just keep shooting, and to Justin, just keep being aggressive."