Until the Maryland men’s basketball team awoke from its first-half hibernation with a 29-0 game-ending run to bury visiting Abilene Christian in a 67-44 victory Wednesday night, two personnel decisions by Coach Mark Turgeon dominated the conversation: Roddy Peters starting and Dez Wells sitting.
Peters, a freshman from Suitland High School, received his first career college start after Jake Layman suffered a deep thigh bruise during practice. Because Layman, who played anyway and finished with a game-high 19 points on four three-pointers, missed practice to nurse the injury, Peters started at point guard.
He played 22 minutes, scored four points, committed four turnovers and had two assists. The giveaways resulted primarily from overzealous decision-making, issues that Turgeon anticipates lessening with time.
Wells also started alongisde Evan Smotrycz, Shaquille Cleare and Nick Faust, but was benched five minutes into the game. He didn’t return until early in the second half. Turgeon attributed it to a “miscommunication” since rectified. Before Wells sat, he had committed a turnover then tried to grab a rebound with one hand that instead slipped out of bounds.
“Something I didn’t like,” Turgeon said. “That’s why he didn’t play the rest of the half and didn’t start the second half. Dez and I have a great relationship. Not a good one, a great one. I’m not concerned about it at all. This early in the season, you have to set the rules.”
The team’s junior leader, who on Tuesday was named to the Wooden Award preseason top 50, played a team-high 14 minutes after halftime. He scored just four points all game and finished with four rebounds, three assist and one turnover.
“He’s our leader,” said sophomore forward Charles Mitchell, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. “Coach wants him to become a better leader and be a better leader. He’s just showing him nobody’s bigger than the team. Everybody has to stay together and play as one.”
Without Wells, Maryland fell behind by as many as 12 points in the first half, but strung together a late rally and entered halftime down by one.
“Dez is our leader,” Layman said. “We did kind of lack some leadership in the first half with Dez being out. No one really took control of our offense. We’ll work on it … When Dez is on the bench, we can’t have the mindset that we’re done. We need leaders on the floor to get us into stuff.”
During his postgame interview, Turgeon seemed content letting the incident go too.
“He had the message right away,” the third-year coach said. “He’s a good kid. He regrets it. I thought he played really well. He was the one who really god Jake going, he’s the one who found Jake on a lot of those. He had a couple of sloppy turnovers early, really wasn’t into it. Second half I don’t think he turned it over. Did a lot of nice things. Did a lot of nice things. I thought he got the break going. He played with energy.
“Jake was our freshest guy. He hadn’t practiced. You could tell, he was fresh. Maybe Dez not playing the first half, he looked pretty fresh in the second half too.”