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Maryland, North Carolina Bring March Intensity to December

Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire

The most compelling main-event bout of the week didn’t feature Tyson Fury or Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed.

Maryland and North Carolina basketball exchanged shots Tuesday in the main event of the 2015 ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with the Tar Heels scoring an 89-81 decision.

This one was everything a basketball fan could ask for: two championship-caliber teams and former conference rivals going toe-to-toe for 40 minutes, and stars making key plays.

Guards Melo Trimble of Maryland and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, making his return from a hand injury, provided the bout-within-the-bout. The preseason All-America guards lived up to their individual billing and beyond, with Paige delivering 20 points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals in his first game back.

Trimble very nearly stole the show, though, keeping the Terps alive despite a 13-point first-half deficit. His 23 points and 12 assists were both game-highs, and his drive-and-dish to Damonte Dodd was play of the night.

Among the highest honors (or disgraces, depending) an athlete can achieve in this social media age is to trend worldwide on Twitter. Consider Trimble’s performance sufficiently appreciated.

The calendar says Dec. 1, but Tuesday’s matchup would have looked right at home in late March. Since every great main-event bout gets a high-profile rematch, another showdown between the Tar Heels and Terps come spring feels in order.

Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire

Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire

By then, both these teams will be even better. That has to be a nerve-racking thought for the ACC and Big Ten competition facing North Carolina and Maryland in the months to come.

The Tar Heels will acclimate and reestablish their chemistry with Paige back in the lineup, and quickly. Their greatest weakness in this early portion of the season is a tendency to step off the accelerator.

It cost North Carolina in a 71-67 loss Nov. 21 at Northern Iowa, when the Heels coughed up a 16-point halftime lead. Tuesday, Maryland rallied from a 13-point deficit to take small leads in the second half.

Trimble led the rally with his aggressive style, which exploited a tentative approach from the Heels on the defensive end. Had Trimble attacked North Carolina with such tenacity from the opening whistle, the Terps may well have taken advantage early.

Interestingly, if not ironically, Trimble’s two best individual performances of the season came after slow starts. He committed three turnovers before hitting his first bucket Tuesday, which didn’t come until midway through the opening half. In a 24-point performance last month against Georgetown, Trimble dropped 17 in the second half.

Perhaps Trimble is the boxer who circles his opponent and gets a feel for his style.

However, Mark Turgeon needs the guard to come out swinging from the opening bell if Maryland’s to meet its lofty potential.

17 November 2015:   Maryland Terrapins guard Rasheed Sulaimon (0) congratulates guard Melo Trimble (2) at the Xfinity Center in College Park, MD. where the Maryland Terrapins defeated the Georgetown Hoyas, 75-71. (Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

(Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

And the Terps’ potential is indeed high.

Despite Tuesday’s setback, Maryland looks ready to rumble with Michigan State and Purdue for Big Ten supremacy. Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon’s 5-of-9 3-point shooting night sets a nice tone for the Maryland backcourt.

With Sulaimon connecting from deep and Trimble’s unrelenting attack of the rim, few teams have the guards to stand up to the Terps. A more consistent effort from freshman big man Diamond Stone is needed for Maryland to make a championship push, but he’ll develop as the season progresses.

The Terps won’t be on the mat for long.

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