The previews described it as a “heavyweight title bout” between two longtime rivals, and that’s exactly how the evening carried on, as Maryland dropped their first game of the season to No. 9-ranked North Carolina 89-81 in Chapel Hill.
Here are eight thinga-ma-jigs and takeaways.
1. Stay Calm
Without taking anything away from North Carolina — who has a team of studs and plenty of fire power to make a deep run — but it’s not hard to argue how/why the Terps could’ve very well left Chapel Hill with a victory on Tuesday.
A few numbers of note…
Maryland shot FIFTY PERCENT from the field.
Maryland shot FORTY-SIX PERCENT from three-point land.
Maryland turned the ball over TWENTY-ONE times.
Despite their seemingly never-ending bullets to the foot, the Terps were never out of the game. They were shooting well enough to forget about their absurd number of turnovers, but were then unfortunately matched with even better shooting by the Tar Heels.
Point being, while this loss sucks and may even appear avoidable when you look back on it, the Terps lost by eight points on the road in front of a raucous crowd to the No. 9-ranked team in the nation while committing 21 turnovers. Things could be a lot worse.
2. The Tar Heels are Legit
Perhaps preaching to the choir, but geez.
The Terps were lucky enough to draw Marcus Paige in his first game back following an injury to his non-shooting hand and that didn’t exactly work in Maryland’s favor. UNC is clearly a different team with Paige running the show.
All around, though — so, so skilled. Big men here, strong shooters there, contributors off the bench over here, threatening long-range snipers there. The Heels are stacked and they showed why they were ranked No. 1 heading into the season.
3. Marcus Paige and His Return
Again, the Terps could’ve benefited from senior point guard Marcus Paige taking a game or two longer to return to action, but the scene was perfect for him and he, uh, delivered.
And not even his stat line of 20 points, five assists, and two steals does his game justice. Although he hit just three-of-seven two point attempts, it always felt like Paige wasn’t missing, which is suggestive of how daggerish his made field goals were. But his real damage was done from beyond the arc, as Paige nailed four-of-five from long range, all of which felt like they put a tight choke collar on any momentum the Terps may have had at the moment.
We’re all familiar with the kind of player he is, but it’s likely that not even Paige himself expected the sort of performance we saw from him on Tuesday. The shooting prowess, the crowd, the defense, the energy — everything surrounding Paige and his return to the floor worked in the Tar Heels favor.
4. Diamond Stone
I’m all about Diamond Stone and this excitement won’t waver, but there were times on Tuesday night when Stone appeared completely lost on defense.
And that’s not criticism meant to retract or get in the way of an intriguing long-term prospectus for the big man. He’s a freshman, he’s only seven games into his collegiate career; I get it. But just because they’re expected struggles doesn’t mean we (as fans) have to feel peachy about it when it’s as glaring as it was on Tuesday night.
5. Jake Layman Missing in Action
Aside from his eight rebounds — which he deserves credit for his hustle alone — Jake Layman was a no show for most of the night. He played 28 minutes and shot only five times, three of which were from deep and all three of which he missed.
As mentioned following the Georgetown game, while guys like Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon can be relied on for solid production beyond the arc, the Terps will need the helpful shooting stroke of Layman as well. Four points and three turnovers aren’t going to cut it.
6. Robert Carter Jr. and His Deceiving Range
Opposing teams will pick up on it as the season moves on, but for right now, it doesn’t appear defenses realize the shooting range of Robert Carter Jr.
Carter finished just one-of-three from deep on Tuesday, but having a power forward who can drift out beyond the three-point line and legitimately threaten a defense is a dangerous weapon to have, especially when you consider the drive-and-find capabilities of heady guards like Trimble and Sulaimon who can penetrate and find Carter hanging out all alone.
7. Melo F–cking Trimble
23 points, 12 dimes, two steals, four-of-five from three.
He went tit-for-tat with Paige all night and hit ENORMOUS shots for Maryland, including a couple of deep threes from an apparent sweet spot nestled a few shades left of center. Sure his eight turnovers were frustrating, but a usage rate of 29 percent (by far the highest of any player on the floor Tuesday night) will lead to that sometimes.
I’m not sure if there’s any possible way to describe the touch Trimble puts on a basketball, but there should be romance novels written about it so that hoops junkies can peruse page after page and giggle and smirk and become even more smitten with how beautiful and elegant it is.
And it’s a versatile touch, too!
Most people talk about a player’s touch down around the basket — which is common to hear when referencing athletic guards or skilled big men — and it’s a skill Trimble clearly possesses, too. He always seems to find a way to sneak the ball past the flailing arms of a much larger defender, or put just the right amount of spin on the ball to make an awkward layup possible with a slight kiss off the glass and in.
And it doesn’t even begin and end there. Trimble’s touch actually comes with range. Floaters in the paint? Touch. Pull-up jumpers? Touch. And those three balls we’ve all become so accustomed to watching rip the net? Perfect mother’lovin touch. A simple flick of the wrist and the sequence of a made bucket is over before you know it. Crazy, crazy stuff.
This Maryland team is good. So is North Carolina. They went toe-to-toe all night long (the start of that second half…swocfjncmokdjw!!) and one team had to win it.
On to the next one.