On most nights at Madison Square Garden, the court belongs to New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
On Tuesday night, Madison Square Garden was home to a different Melo. A kid from Upper Marlboro, Maryland was the brightest star on this December night.
Melo Trimble, Maryland’s floor general and the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, finished with a season-high 25 points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal to lead No. 6 Maryland past UConn, 76-66, in the second game of the 2015 Jimmy V Classic in front of a boisterous crowd of 19,812.
Unlike the Huskies, it didn’t take Trimble long to get going. The sophomore guard controlled the pace from the start. He scored four free throws and assisted on a Diamond Stone dunk to give Maryland a 9-4 lead 5:03 into the game.
Trimble, both strong and quick with the ball, was getting into the lane easily, creating easy opportunities for himself and his teammates. It didn’t matter which UConn player guarded him. He made it look easy and simple.
Later in the first half with the shot clock approaching 10 seconds, Stone saved a ball from going out of bounds near the UConn bench and found Trimble. Melo then grabbed the ball with his left hand, took one dribble and then pulled up from the three-point line and made it, giving Maryland a 22-8 lead.
Two possession later, Trimble drove into a forest of UConn big men, causing Amida Brimah, Shonn Miller and Omar Calhoun all to bite on a shot attempt before he somehow dished the ball to Stone, who jammed it home from the baseline to put the Terps up 24-10.
A few plays later, Trimble stole Miller’s attempted pass, flew down the floor and made the layup as Amida Brimah fouled him. He made the free throw to complete the three-point play and put Maryland ahead 27-11.
“He’s got swag, man,” ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale said after that play. “Can’t define ‘it.’ ‘It’ is special. When you have ‘it’ you are special. And he has ‘it.’”
Trimble scored 10 points (2 of 5 shooting) and had all three of his assists in the first half, as the Terps led 38-22. He entered the game averaging 14.4 points.
“I think just confidence,” Trimble said about that team’s start to the game. “We didn’t worry about the crowd. Of course we enjoyed the moment of playing in the Garden. For some of us, it was our first time playing there. We didn’t let the crowd affect us. We just played basketball.”
But over the prior four games, the Huskies have been in an all too familiar spot. Down big early, having to play from behind.
They were down by 10 with 7:47 to go against Syracuse. They were down by 21 with 18:57 to play against Gonzaga. And they were down by 11 to Sacred Heart 11:32 into the game.
On Tuesday against Maryland, the Huskies were down 20 in the first half and 16 with 8:24 to play.
“Once again, getting down by 20 really hurt us,” Ollie said.
But again, they came back. UConn went on a 13-2 run late in the game to cut the Terps’ lead to 67-64 with 2:39 left. But then all the momentum that UConn had gained during that run went away just as quick. Freshman Jalen Adams fouled Trimble in the backcourt, causing Ollie to throw the papers on the scorer’s table onto the court.
Ollie was assessed a technical foul.
Trimble, who shoots 80 percent from the foul line, made 1 of 2 free throws for the technical foul and then both free throws for the Adams’ foul.
“I give UConn a lot of credit,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. “They made a lot of shots down the stretch. But Melo was great getting to the foul line."
In the second half, Trimble scored 14 points on 3 of 5 shooting (9 of 10 from the line).
“Melo controlled the whole game,” Ollie said.
Melo Trimble will be the best player the Huskies face all season.
The closest thing UConn will see to Trimble is probably Nic Moore on Southern Methodist. The Huskies will meet Moore and the Mustangs twice this year (Feb. 18 and March 3).
On Tuesday, every time Maryland needed a play, Trimble seemed to either score a bucket or set up a teammate for one.
Melo scored five free throws to go along with layups from Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter down the stretch as the Terps went on a 9-2 run to close out the Huskies after Ollie’s technical foul.
“We just played with poise,” Trimble said. “Coach Turgeon was preaching that throughout every media timeout and the timeouts we took. We just went out there and executed plays and we pulled the game out.”
Tuesday was Trimble’s first time playing under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden. But don’t be surprised if you seem him making more plays there at the next level on a similar stage very soon.