Forty-eight hours before he turned in a career performance against Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night, Dez Wells was locked in, determined as ever during the Maryland basketball team’s Sunday practice. The previous evening, Wells turned in a five-turnover, seven-point performance against Georgia Southern, season highs and lows, respectively, for the dynamic wing.
Yet here was Wells, a “totally different kid” as Coach Mark Turgeon later said. Aggressive and focused, Wells sought to shake Saturday from his system.
“He was embarrassed with the way he played Saturday,” Turgeon said.
Wells didn’t seek clarity in a one-on-one meeting with Turgeon, as he did before pouring in 15 points against LIU-Brooklyn on Nov. 16. Instead he looked to within, and what followed was a career-high 23 points in 34 minutes against Northwestern, the most any Maryland player has logged this season. He shot 9 for 11 from the field, mostly on layups, but also hit his first three-pointer since the Morehead State game on Nov. 12.
“That’s what true competitors do,” Turgeon said. “They bounce back. I don’t know if he can go 9 for 11 every night, but hopefully he can continue to compete like that.”
Effort shouldn’t be a problem. Quick on the break and to the rim, Wells dominated Northwestern during a second-half stretch, outscoring the Wildcats 5-0 by himself as Maryland pushed the lead to double digits, never looking back after the break. When Northwestern called a quick timeout early into the second half, scheming to somehow stop Alex Len, Wells took over.
And so continued the sophomore transfer’s ascent, as Wells has gone from a much-hyped preseason arrival to months of uncertainty surrounding his NCAA eligibility waiver to a key cog in Maryland’s attack. Wells even shook off derisive chants from the Northwestern student section that mocked the sexual assault allegations which caused Xavier to expel him earlier this year, going 4 for 4 from the free throw line with the words, “No Means No” blocked from entering his ears.
By the fourth free throw, the fans abandoned the chant, reverting to waving and shrieking instead. Nothing was stopping Wells, it seemed.
“It was just a good one. Move onto the next one,” Wells said, shrugging off any personal credit like he did the taunts. “Individually, I think I played pretty good. As a team, I think we’ve played a lot better.”
All game, Wells implored his teammates to feed the hot hand. For more than 20 minutes, it was Len. Once Northwestern switched to a 1-3-1 zone, Logan Aronhalt became the target.
“Coach told us in the beginning of the season, whenever somebody has it going, we’re going to keep going it to them,” said Wells, declining to mention that, for a sizable of portion Tuesday night, that player was him.