Jon Graham had the best game of his college career, and Dez Wells had the best game of his challenging senior season. Melo Trimble couldn't get into any shooting rhythm for the second-consecutive game, but his second-half playmaking binge was one of the decisive factors in No. 17 Maryland's holding-off of Penn State for a 64-58 win Wednesday night at Xfinity Center. The three players' performances, in a lot of ways, tell the story of Maryland's win.
For his part, Graham isn't usually an offensive focal point for the Terrapins. He has played just 31 percent of the team's total minutes this season, and while he's been on the court, he's only taken 13 percent of its shots. As I detailed before the game, Graham's been more efficient than ever this year, but he's still not a major player offensively. Usually.
Entering the night with a career high of 10 points, Graham exploded for 16 against the same Nittany Lions he'd have been playing for had he not transferred away to Maryland in the Summer of 2013. The wildest thing about Graham's wildest game? He only took seven field goal attempts to get there, shooting 6-of-7. At the foul line, the 46-percent shooter drilled four of his seven tries, including a bank shot that left him visibly incredulous on the court.
"I called it," Graham was laughing afterward. "I was looking at everybody, 'Don't worry about it.'"
Penn State coach Pat Chambers, who coached Graham during his first two seasons at the helm in State College, said he had a feeling Graham would thrive. "I knew going into this game he was going to have a career high. I knew it. It just happens all the time," he said. But Graham insisted the opponent had nothing to do with his intensity, nor did he have much extra insight into Penn State's game plan.
"I get amped up for every game. You guys see me," he said.
Jake Layman, Graham's junior teammate, gave him up on this front. "He was so fired up for this game," Layman said. "He had a lot of great memories with that team, so he was just so happy to finally get a chance to play them."
Graham, in fact, passed most of the credit for his scoring night to his freshman point guard, who didn't hit a field goal for the second-straight outing and looked lost as a scorer himself.
"It was the great play of Melo Trimble, driving, penetrating the defense," Graham said. "I was just the fortunate beneficiary of his great passes."
In some small part, this is Graham fibbing to be modest. He backed down defenders and scored at the hoop all night, and no 16-and-6 night comes without a player individually succeeding. But Graham had a point – Trimble assisted on four of his six baskets, all coming within the post. In sum, Trimble had eight of Maryland's nine assists. He had just one turnover, marking the best ratio of his young collegiate career.
"I thought it was great," coach Mark Turgeon said, pointing out that Trimble had to push through double teams when he dribbled with the ball. "At the start of the second half, we did a lot to get Melo the ball. He made the right decisions, and our big guys finished, which was good to see tonight. I was happy for Melo."
Ultimately, this gets to a pretty important point for Trimble and Maryland's future. Trimble is a scoring guard, and Maryland will ultimately need him to score regularly to wade deeply into postseason play. But Trimble's ability to drive to the basket, which has manifested itself in so many foul shots for most of the season, should also let him be a dynamic helper. Trimble set up Graham for a handful of easy scores Wednesday, and another looping pass to a posted-up Layman provided two important points as Maryland sought to close out the game. Trimble probably wouldn't tell you he played well Wednesday, that he wants to do better than 0-of-5 from the field. That's not wrong. But if Trimble can be a top-end playmaker for others, he's extraordinarily dangerous. It's not as if the buckets won't come back.
On another hand, Maryland needed someone to pick up the scoring slack on Wednesday with Trimble not making shots from the field. That made it a good time for Wells to deliver his best showing of the season and one of the best of his Maryland career. His outrageous, probably criminal transition slam over poor Donovon Jack was a snapshot of the fine two-way game Wells played when Maryland had to have it.
"I'm feeling a lot closer to 100 percent now," Wells said, as he puts more distance between himself and a wrist injury that cost him a month earlier in the season. "I haven't felt this good since the beginning of the season."
Wells scored 23 points on just 10 shots and had 7 rebounds, all on the defensive end. He was 5-of-6 on free throws, while the rest of his team was 10-of-18. And he smoked D.J. Newbill, the Penn State star whose 6-of-19 shooting night only looked worse compared to Wells's ultra-efficient performance. Wells spent much of the game guarding Newbill; the gap between Wells's 23 points and Newbill's 18 – on nearly twice as many shots – was significant.
"You can't shut out a great player like him. You are never going to do that," Wells said. "It's a team effort, and we all stepped up. He was going to get his because the whole offense runs through him. My mindset was just to make every shot tough for him."
For the most part, Wells did, and Newbill had 13 missed shots to show for it. None of his teammates had more than seven or even attempted more than nine.
Maryland's success on Wednesday stemmed more from Graham, Trimble and Wells than anybody else. And if Graham's surge, Trimble's facilitating and Wells's dominance showed anything, it was that the three players propped up each other, too.