Not much was smooth about Maryland's 69-65 win over Nebraska at Xfinity Center Thursday night. The Cornhuskers are 13-13 and one of the worst offensive teams in the country, yet Maryland needed a late push to avoid what would've been a black eye of an upset on its own floor. But that upset never happened, in large part because of three guards – two seniors and a freshman, coming to the end of the only season they'll ever play together.
One senior, Richaud Pack, spent most of his 28 minutes guarding Terran Petteway, Nebraska's do-everything wing who averages 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists for the otherwise quiet Huskers. In Maryland's man defense, Pack rarely had the benefit of double-teams to help him deal with Petteway. That didn't matter. Petteway scored 8 points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field, one point above his seasonal low and – by far – his least efficient game of the year.
"I just tried to get into him," Pack said, "and make him take tough shots. Every time he didn't have the ball in his hand, make it hard to catch, and when he did, make him have to make several moves to score."
The other senior guard for Maryland, Dez Wells, split the job of guarding Petteway with Pack. Wells had a mediocre offensive game, scoring 14 points but requiring 11 shots to get there. But on defense, he was great, sealing off Petteway when Pack sat or when Nebraska screened or rotated Petteway off him.
"Dez Wells was really good on him," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "He was physical. When we were able to get by him or get him switched onto someone else, they were showing him two at the rim. We just couldn't get him a clean look at the rim." Indeed, Petteway missed at least four hooks or lay-in tries near the basket.
The freshman, Melo Trimble, did his damage on the other end of Maryland's home court. Starting with his steal-and-score 21 seconds into the game and ending with his four foul shots in the final minute, Trimble was magical. He scored 26 points on just 9 field goal attempts, buoyed by an insatiable appetite for the foul line. He got there 11 times and made his shot on 10 of those trips, and he had 5 assists. He had 6 rebounds, too, to lead the Terrapins in virtually every major statistical category during their four-point win.
In the game's final 3:41, Trimble scored 11 of Maryland's last 13 points, six of them coming on back-to-back three-pointers and five coming by way of six free throw tries. The points proved decisive.
"I think with our fans being there and them being into the game, as well as us being zoned in helps us a lot, especially going down the stretch of the game," Trimble said. The win moved Maryland to 8-0 in games decided by fewer than seven points, keeping the Terps upright on a tightrope they've walked all season.
Trimble's brilliance and Pack's stoutness were especially important Thursday. That's because only Trimble truly excelled on offense, and only Pack and Wells, who also spent time on Petteway, thrived on defense. Trimble dragged Maryland's offense out of stagnation almost by himself, while Pack rendered Petteway, a national player of the year candidate in the preseason, almost completely irrelevant.
Consider: Non-Trimble Maryland players shot just 14-of-34 (41.2 percent) from the field, while non-Petteway Nebraska players shot 24-of-45, good for 53.3 percent. As it happened Maryland's 47 percent showing beat Nebraska's 44, which – coupled with a huge Maryland huge foul shooting advantage – gave Maryland just enough to win. If the gap between Trimble's 2.9 points per shot and Petteway's 0.6 points per shot were much smaller, it's quite likely Maryland would have lost. Pack's defense was in large part responsible for Petteway's challenges. It also shouldn't be forgotten that Wells chipped in against Petteway when Pack sat down or when Nebraska screened.
"Nothing Melo does surprises me," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said, "because I've been watching him do this his entire life."