Damonte Dodd waited while his Maryland men’s basketball teammates stormed the court to celebrate guard Melo Trimble’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Michigan State on March 4.
The senior center, the only Terp to experience life in College Park pre-and post-Melo-arrival, was shocked.
Dodd knew the sting of the 17-15 record without an NIT berth in 2013-14 before the shy kid from Upper Marlboro arrived. He’s also cherished the last three years, and three NCAA tournament appearances, via Trimble mania.
That’s why Dodd’s amazement was perhaps the most unexpected factor in that game-winning sequence. He shouldn’t have been.
Trimble has become so synonymous with Maryland, and that dagger was the perfect way to cap his Xfinity Center career should he opt for the NBA Draft after his junior campaign.
It left a longing for that magic to continue in this weekend’s NCAA tournament, too. How fitting would a career-best day, a game-winning shot or a series of drives through the lane punctuated with that vintage smile be for the player who saved Maryland’s program?
“Number one is he’s a winner,” coach Mark Turgeon said in Orlando a day before the No. 6-seed Terps face Xavier. “You think of Maryland basketball, Lefty [Driesell] and all the players and the job that Lefty did, and Gary [Williams] comes in and wins a national championship. But we had to kind of establish ourselves, and Melo’s helped us do that on a national level.
“I mean, I can go on and on. I can’t say enough. He’s done a lot for our program.”
The framework for that movement started the spring before Trimble joined Turgeon’s squad. Maryland was in disarray.
The Terps hadn’t made an NCAA tournament in the coach’s first three years. Five players transferred in the offseason, leaving the program that used to aim for national championships with little direction.
The Terps figured Trimble would be good. Dodd watched him in pickup games that summer and recognized a quiet confidence. Then came a win against Arizona State in November 2014 when Trimble dropped 31 points, and Dodd knew Trimble was a budding superstar.
Three years later, Trimble has made three All-Big Ten teams. The high school McDonald’s All-American became a second-team All-American in 2015. He owns a 30-8 record in games decided by six points or less as one of the coolest players in the most heated of moments.
And now he’s leading his third NCAA tournament charge after his most impressive season.
Sure, the statistics have been important. He’s averaging 17 points, 3.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field.
But his most crucial role has been integrating three freshmen into the lineup and keeping the team afloat — no, soaring — despite a depleted frontcourt. The Terps touted a program-best 20-2 start in large part because of Trimble’s control.
Turgeon challenged him before the season to become a vocal leader, and it’s worked. He dished out advice to his teammates after three straight losses last month.
He’s given rookie backcourt partner Anthony Cowan pointers on adjusting to college and Turgeon’s motion offense. Freshman forward Justin Jackson has heeded Trimble’s knowledge about ball screens while mirroring his practice habits after the veteran’s.
These freshmen, the ones who sought the high-level competition Trimble restored at Maryland and have anchored production around him this season, appreciate his presence, steadiness and fun. Probably even more than the Maryland students who snap pictures at will when the star is around the campus.
“Everything he does, he always gives it 100 percent,” Jackson said, “and I feel like when you give 100 percent to the game, it gives 100 percent to you.”
That respect inside and out of the team is perhaps why the junior, who committed to the Terps early in his high school junior season, never wavering, turned to the crowd after his game-winner a few weeks ago and tugged his jersey where Maryland blazed across the front.
He had just planted his feet and watched the ball fall through the net.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had just pursed his lips and later said “hats off to him for sticking around and making sure he got better each year, and the job he’s done with those young guys is something I really appreciate.”
So, just before freshman guard Kevin Huerter tackled him to the ground, Trimble sent a message to the student section.
“This,” Trimble said, “is my state.”
And this generation of Maryland basketball — the one with three straight NCAA tournament berths, three seasons of at least 24 wins and a burgeoning talent pipeline — belongs to Trimble, too.