COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s time to press the moderately concerned button.
For the third time in as many contests Thursday night at Ohio State, the Terrapins men’s basketball team laid a dud.
It started with Indiana shooting nearly 70 percent from three-point range in a dismantling of the Terps at Assembly Hall last week. Then coach Mark Turgeon’s squad barely squeaked past a weak Northwestern squad Sunday at Xfinity Center, only pulling out a victory after a miraculous comeback and Dez Wells’ heroic game-winning putback layup.
But no setback was worse than what unfolded at Value City Arena. Lethargic, apathetic, unenergetic, soft — the Terps’ performance against the Buckeyes was all of these things and more.
Road losses happen. I detailed that at length in a recent column. But the manner in which you lose is a crucial part of this equation. And the Terps had no business being in the same gym as Ohio State on Thursday night.
Here are my takeaways.
- This matchup was supposed to be a battle between two of the country’s most heralded freshmen: Terps guard Melo Trimble and Buckeyes guard D’Angelo Russell. Instead, it turned into a one-man show, with Russell burying and-1 pull-up threes, dishing no-look dimes and coming within a stone’s throw of a triple-double (he finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and six assists).
Trimble, meanwhile, turned in his worst game as a Terp, pouring in a whopping three points on 0 of 8 shooting to go along with one rebound and one assist. It marked just the second time all season Trimble failed to score in double digits and the first such performance since Nov. 20 against Fordham.
This decrease in production is likely the result of an unfortunate trend for the freshman: he’s not getting the same type of calls when he drives to the basket now that he has a few Big Ten games under his belt.
During his first 15 games, including the first two conference bouts, Trimble averaged just more than eight free-throw attempts per contest. Since then, in his past seven games, all against Big Ten foes, Trimble has compiled eight attempts from the charity stripe just twice, and he’s averaging fewer than five attempts per game.
Quite simply, the youngster needs to adapt to these changes.
There’s no question we’ve been spoiled by Trimble’s outstanding play so far this season. Freshman point guards aren’t supposed to display that kind of consistency or composure. Games like this one are bound to happen for a teenager trying to lead a program back to prominence.
It’s just unfortunate it came in the shadow of Russell’s greatness.
- Some (marginally) good news: Trimble is the least of the coach Mark Turgeon’s problems.
The Terps’ perimeter defense has gone from outstanding to mediocre to shaky to downright pitiful.
When Indiana shot 68.2 percent from three, I called it an anomaly. The Terps entered the contest with the best three-point defense in the Big Ten. But the problem is opponents have continued to shoot lights out from beyond the arc since that point.
Over the past three games, including the loss to the Hoosiers, the Terps have allowed teams to shoot 56 percent (33 of 59) from downtown. That kind of extended streak doesn’t happen without some significant defensive breakdowns on the perimeter, which continued Thursday night when the Buckeyes drained 10 of 17 three-point attempts.
“We’re playing different teams, so I can’t just say that every team we play is hot,” Wells said. “We’ve got to play better defense. We’ve got to close out the shooters a lot better, run guys off the line and rotate a lot better than we’ve been doing.”
It comes down to effort, and the Terps need more of it.
- Damonte Dodd was a new player. He was a defensive force. He was a menace on the boards. He was slinging bounce passes to backdoor cutters. He was slamming home ferocious two-handed jams.
And then, in an instant, all that production and swagger vanished. Dodd hasn’t scored more than three points in any of the past seven games. His minutes are dwindling — he played just six minutes Thursday night despite starting the contest and staying out of significant foul trouble — and Turgeon appears to have lost all confidence in the 6-foot-11 forward.
Where did it go? Beats me. But in the meantime, a serious concern has developed: the absence of a big man who can log consistent minutes, protect the paint and secure the defensive glass.
It became glaringly apparent against the Buckeyes, who outrebounded the Terps 51-32 and secured 16 (ONE, SIX!!) offensive boards. The performance was so poor Turgeon said he didn’t know if he’d “ever had a team outrebounded like that” in his 18 seasons as a head coach.
Jon Graham plays extremely hard and sets a good example, but at 6-foot-8, he’s simply too small to bang down low with the athletes in the Big Ten. Seven-footer Michal Cekovsky has a whole bunch of potential, but he still doesn’t possess the mass or tenacity to find success as a low-post presence.
So that leaves Dodd. He’s got to step up. And he’s going to need more than six minutes of playing time to work through his struggles.
Maybe Turgeon should head to the pet store and buy a longer leash.