GREENSBORO, N.C. – Duke’s assistant coaches filed in behind a baseline table, scribbling thoughts on their notepads as its two potential opponents slugged it out on the Greensboro Coliseum floor. Wake Forest entered halftime with a five-point lead, was blessed with every opportunity to break things open against Maryland early in the second half, but couldn’t take advantage. And behind a game-high 21 points from Dez Wells, the Terrapins survived another day at the ACC tournament with a 75-62 win.
Now they get the surging Blue Devils, rested and poised for revenge after a late-season 83-81 loss to the Terrapins at Comcast Center.
“It’s going to be a grind,” said point guard Pe’Shon Howard, who notched a season-high 10 points and hit his first three-pointer in seven games. “They’re a great team, great coaches. I trust our coaches to have us prepared. They know everybody in and out of the conference…We’re going to have to come out, be ready, lock in and grind it out.”
After a sluggish first half against Wake Forest, a team it had topped twice before this season by a combined 36 points, that’s exactly what Maryland did. The Terps shot 22 of 29 (75.9 percent) from the free-throw line, their most efficient outing since the ACC opener against Virginia Tech. After guard C.J. Harris put up 13 points by intermission, hitting an array of tough step-back jump shots and deep three-pointers, Wells one-upped him in the second half with 14 points. In his past two games against Wake Forest, the Raleigh, N.C. native is shooting an absurd 18 for 22 from the field.
Unlike Maryland’s 10-point win at Winston-Salem on March 2, when most of Wells’s 11 field-goals came within four feet, the sophomore transfer from Xavier found offense from a variety of sources. With his Terps fighting from behind early in the second half, Wells first deposited a dunk off a nifty behind-the-back pass from Nick Faust, then hit two free throws and finally stuck a three-pointer from the left corner.
“It was big,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Nick got to the foul line, I don’t know the next possession, but the biggest shot, Dez had the left-hand dunk, which was big time, but we hit some threes. They weren’t guarding us in the first half. We hit some threes and that opened the floor for us.”
Still, it wasn’t until a 10-2 burst that Maryland finally pulled away. Wake Forest endured a field-goal drought of over eight minutes, with a 14-possession stretch that ended with three turnovers, five missed shots and six trips to the free-throw line. Harris grew similarly cold, and had just five points after halftime.
“He didn’t want to go home,” Howard, who drew the main defensive assignment guarding Harris, said. “I didn’t think about that until he made a fade-away in the first half, but then I realized, yeah he’s playing focused. The first two games he was more determined to get to the basket, but today he did a great job of pulling up, he knew that our bigs would help, he did a great job of pulling up and making tough shots. He’s a great player, and that’s what great players do. When the lights are on, they really come to perform. Second half, we kind of clamped down on him. He missed some shots more than anything, and that was the main thing. He just missed some.”
Said Turgeon: “Well, I think it was a combination. I think we were pretty good, and they had a lot of shots go all the way in and out. About the eight minute timeout, I said guys we’ve got to make them shoot jump shots. They have to shoot jump shots to beat us. We play a little smarter that way. They did shoot a lot of jump shots, but they didn’t fall for them. We were pretty locked in. Our scouting report was pretty good. Did a much better job on Harris.”
The Terps were actually worse from the field in the second half (46.7 percent) than they were in the first (50.0), but opened up a double-digit lead when Seth Allen, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers, stuck an uncontested layup. Wells and Alex Len (11 points, five rebounds, four assists, two blocks and zero turnovers) had four fouls apiece with six minutes and 56 seconds left, but Maryland’s two leading scorers stayed disciplined down the stretch.
Now the Terps get Duke, one month removed from that court-storming upset at Comcast Center, which hasn’t lost this season with forward Ryan Kelly in the lineup. Having Kelly, Howard said, makes the Blue Devils go from “No. 5 [in the nation] to No. 1.”