Maryland basketball’s win over American featured something no one had seen before at the college level: Melo Trimble starting at shooting guard.
The Terps’ star hadn’t played anything but point guard in his first two seasons at Maryland, but the addition of freshman Anthony Cowan allows Trimble to play off the ball, which better fits his skill set. Trimble played off the ball in high school, but a lack of guard depth forced him into becoming Maryland’s primary ball-handler these past two years.
While head coach Mark Turgeon had played Cowan at the point beside Trimble in the team’s exhibition game last week, there was no guarantee he’d go with that same lineup against American. But on Friday night, he kept the freshman in the starting five and reaped the benefits of his decision. Cowan played the third-most minutes of anyone on the team, trailing only Trimble and fellow freshman Kevin Huerter. He finished with 12 points, second-most on the team to Trimble, on 3-for-4 shooting. He added nine rebounds, a shocking total for Maryland’s shortest player.
The offense was at its best when both guards were on the floor, especially on the rare occasion when they were able to push the pace. Cowan’s speed is one of his best attributes, and he was able to dart by defenders on a couple fast breaks.
When he isn’t playing point, Trimble can focus on scoring instead of distributing — a skill he was forced to learn quickly last year. This paid off right from the start. Trimble weaved through the Eagles’ defense to score eight of the team’s first nine points, and ended up with 22 of Maryland’s 62 total.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of me that [Cowan] can dribble the ball up, try and be aggressive as well,” Trimble said.
He drove almost at will against an overmatched American defense, converting difficult layups in the manner to which fans have been accustomed.
The tandem of Cowan and Trimble worked well together. The freshman was bothersome against the Eagles’ guards, and that part of his game is more ready for college than his offense is.
“I think Anthony really got it going defensively,” Turgeon said. “A couple steals, deflections. I thought that was big on his part.”
This doesn’t guarantee we’ll see this lineup all season. Playing Cowan alongside Trimble made sense against a small team like American, but that might not be the case later in the season. This team’s played all of 40 minutes together, and things could change quite a bit.
“Day-to-day, I don’t know who my best players are,” Turgeon said. “I know Melo’s my best player, but from day to day, I don’t know.”
Maryland still has some figuring to do in acclimating its new pieces together on the offensive end. Trimble and Cowan were the scapegoats late in the shot clock, and that worked for now. The Terps didn’t get much production from a thin frontcourt, and shots from deep weren’t falling, as they finished shooting 29 percent on three-pointers.
The Terps’ offense suffered when Trimble wasn’t on the floor. When he went out for three and a half minutes in the first half, the team made one field goal. When he rested for two in the second half, the team didn’t get a single bucket.
This is a team playing its first game with a lot of new parts, and those will take time to mesh. Trimble had four assists while Cowan had zero, and the team as a whole only had seven. The offense was disjointed, as one would expect from a team that’s still trying to gel.
But what we did learn is that Trimble and Cowan can play cohesively when called upon to score.
The two guards looked good together on Friday night, and they’ll have plenty of chances to improve their chemistry. Their next test comes on Tuesday, when the Terps play Georgetown on the road. That’ll be a tougher team and a less friendly environment. Maryland will need better performances all around to beat the Hoyas, but Trimble and Cowan should give the Terps a chance.