He’s too humble to say it, too deferential to brag, but Maryland needs Dez Wells to score. Especially if the Terps require a jolt, like they did Thursday night against Denver in the NIT second round, the sophomore swingman is the only player truly capable of entering “takeover mode” and delivering.
How frustrating it must have been, then, to sprint back and forth between the low-post blocks, fighting for position against Denver as four Maryland guards whipped the ball around the perimeter. Even with the scrappy Pioneers fronting Wells and aggressively denying him passes, the Xavier transfer finished with a team-high 19 points, despite going enduring most of the second half with two.
“We knew Dez had a mismatch,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Fouled, three-point play, then they doubled and got Jake the three. Dez was our best post-up player all night.”
Another ho-hum day for Wells, at least by his standards. He’s shooting 56.3 percent from the field and averaging 18.3 points over the past nine games, including that career evening against Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
“Dez wasn’t getting as many touches, so we tried to do whatever we could to get it inside,” sophomore Nick Faust said. “Their big man couldn’t guard him. Whoever had him, that’s who we wanted to attack.”
Statistics like that hold very little meaning for Wells. When asked why Maryland went with a five-guard lineup, a desperate move on Turgeon’s part that might have saved the season, Wells simply said: “We scored more than they did. That’s all that matters.”
“I felt if I got the ball in a position to make plays, I was going to do that,” Wells said. “Regardless of where I got the ball, I was going to do something to help my team out, whether it was passing it, or drawing a foul or making a play for somebody else, just do whatever it takes to win.”
How difficult it must have been for Wells, mere months removed from his expulsion from Xavier amid sexual assault allegations, to first find a new school, then plod through a lengthy NCAA appeals process before finally, on top of everything, becoming the face of Maryland’s program. He’s all smiles in public, more media-savvy than his older teammates, especially when Pe’Shon Howard began enduring some midseason struggles. In recent weeks, as his value becomes more apparent with each Terps win, he’s become a walking motivational poster.
“We just wanted to win,” Wells said. “The will to win will take you places you never thought you could go. So that’s something we did.”
>> When Jake Layman took an elbow to the face from Denver forward Royce O’Neale, drawing a flagrant-one foul, Faust calmly sank both free throws. This is only noteworthy because Howard, an 87 percent free throw shooter this season, was also on the floor.
But Faust, who shot 61.9 percent from the line during his freshman season, has improved that mark by nearly 13 percentage points, and entered Thursday having hit 27 of 33 (81.8 percent) over the past nine games. Against Niagara and Denver, he’s reached the line seven and nine times, respectively. His ability to drive through contact shows a newfound versatility that serves Faust well and is a huge weapon for the Terps moving forward.
>> Seth Allen, ever since putting up eight turnovers against Duke on Feb. 16, has averaged just 1.2 turnovers over the past 11 games. Once Turgeon switched to a five-guard lineup, Allen took over, using his agility and handles to turn one-on-one isolation scenarios into easy layups. He finished with 13 points, and has reached double figures in four of the past five games.
“It’s fun,” Allen said. “That’s my favorite type of basketball. Reminds me of AAU and pick-up games. The thing is with that, it can be bad, because guys can get out of control. You have to give us credit, because we played in control and together. We got the ball down to Dez and we just made big plays at the end.”
>> The Comcast Center attendance was 3,982, breaking the previous all-time low for a men’s basketball game there, set just two days prior against Niagara (4,053).
>> Maryland faces the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 1 seed Alabama and No. 4 Northwestern on Tuesday at a to-be-determined time. If the Crimson Tide win, the Terps will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. If the Cardinal advance, then Maryland will host its third straight home game, with a berth to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden on the line. The Terps haven’t won three straight since their 13-game winning streak through nonconference play and into the ACC opener over Virginia Tech on Jan. 5.