EVANSTON, Ill. — Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon wasn't worried about his star guard.
Entering the Terps' game against Northwestern on Wednesday night, guard Melo Trimble had been shooting 31 percent from the field in his past four outings.
Last year in conference play, Trimble went through a similar slump that derailed the Terps' postseason seeding. But Turgeon went out of his way Monday to tell reporters Trimble is fresher at this point in the season than he was a year ago and felt Trimble was primed for a breakout performance.
In Welsh-Ryan Arena, Trimble flashed the offensive prowess that led the Terps to two NCAA tournament berths and likely another one this season. He finished with one of the best performances of his three-year career, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-for-17 shooting to lead No. 23 Maryland to a 74-64 victory.
"I could sense something about Melo tonight," Turgeon said. "I just told Melo to play with confidence. He has to be borderline cocky out there. He played that way a little bit tonight."
As the Northwestern players and students jumped around moments before tip-off, not the slightest smirk appeared on any of the Terps players' faces. They were locked in, knowing the importance of beating the Wildcats (19-7, 8-5 Big Ten) before facing No. 11 Wisconsin on Sunday.
After Maryland (22-4, 10-3) opened a 9-2 lead, it didn't score for almost five minutes while Trimble sat on the bench for the majority of the drought. But with the Terps up by four midway through the half, Trimble scored seven straight points.
He put the finishing touches on his breakout frame by first assisting forward Damonte Dodd's dunk. Then, with three seconds remaining, Trimble finished an and-one layup before staring down a group of Northwestern fans who were yelling at him.
Turgeon said he added plays in practice over the past two weeks that opened the lane for Trimble.
"Once I saw that first shot go in, right then and there I knew it was going to be my game," Trimble said. "My biggest thing is getting to the basket and getting to the line. I was just taking what the defense gave me. Tonight was my night."
The Terps, who are 10-1 in contests away from Xfinity Center, said improving their defense would be vital to winning this week's games. While some of the Wildcats' misses in the first half came on open looks, Maryland held them to 32 percent shooting and 17 percent from beyond the arc in the opening period.
Northwestern played without its leading scorer, Scottie Lindsey (15.4 points per game), who missed his fourth straight game with mononucleosis. Guard Bryant McIntosh, who entered as the team's second-leading scorer (14 points per game) and the Big Ten's assist leader (5.4 per game), never found a rhythm as he picked up three first-half fouls. The junior finished with nine points. Guard Isiah Brown paced Northwestern with 19 points.
"The development those players have made is amazing," Turgeon said. "It's going to be a great story coming into March."
The Terps knew they had to continue their momentum in the second half, and Trimble ensured the team didn't falter.
The Upper Marlboro native scored 11 points in the first six minutes of the second half, including two 3-pointers, to help extend Maryland's lead to 17.
When Turgeon granted Trimble rest in the middle of the half, his teammates penetrated to create open shots on the perimeter. Maryland finished shooting 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Trimble maintained a serious face through his breakout performance. But with about nine minutes remaining, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard, who said he likes to play with "swagger," finished an and-one layup and flashed a smile to the cameras after falling to the ground. His floater with five minutes and 38 seconds left broke his previous career-high of 31 points.
"I never thought the old Melo left," Dodd said. "He's still there."
Trimble didn't score the rest of the contest, but Dodd (12 points) sunk a layup with about two minutes remaining to end Northwestern's 15-4 run.
As the final buzzer sounded, forward Justin Jackson put his arm around Trimble while the pair walked off the court. Some other Maryland players then hugged Trimble on the sideline. The spotlight never left Trimble, as he smiled while signing autographs and taking pictures with fans before and after speaking with reporters.
"Even though he hasn't been shooting the ball well, he's been doing a lot of things to make our team win," guard Anthony Cowan said. "I didn't know he had to prove anybody wrong after everything he already does."