CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Mark Turgeon walked from the Conte Forum media room and loosened the tie around his neck. “I can finally breathe again,” he said, and it seemed more connected to Maryland’s 88-80 win over Boston College than an overly snug Windsor knot. After limping into ACC play on a two-game losing streak, the Terrapins desperately needed something – anything – positive to emerge from their conference opener.
“I don’t want to understate this,” Turgeon said to begin his postgame news conference. “This was a really big win for us, what we’ve been going through, the way we’ve been playing.”
Indeed, the Eagles had endured something similar. A loaded nonconference schedule had sunk them to 3-6 entering Thursday night, and they were arguably scrambling even more than Maryland. But a career-high 33 points from Dez Wells, coupled with some severely porous defense by the inviting hosts, made for a memorable night for Turgeon, who won just his fourth ACC road game since arriving in College Park.
“Just a one-night deal,” Turgeon said. “But our guys believed they were going to win the whole game. That’s a step in the right direction.”
That the Terps, for once, started fast was a positive sign. So was emerging victorious after allowing a double-digit lead to turn into a four-point deficit late in the second half. Much of that can be owed to Wells, who led Maryland to average an absurdly high 1.33 points per possession.
Over the final seven minutes, Wells single-handedly outscored Boston College, 18-16. He hit runners and layups and Euro-step floaters. He drew contact and went to the free throw line. By the final media timeout, Turgeon was calling clear-outs, his only advice to let the clock whittle down before Wells made his move.
“It makes it easy on me,” said forward Jake Layman, who willingly relinquished his position atop the team’s scoring leader board despite notching 13 points. “I don’t have to do much. Just watch him do his thing and get us to that win.”
Wells idled for several minutes after the final buzzer, talking with a friend who gifted him a bag of baked goodies – “Nothing I can eat,” he said, respecting the team’s nutrition guidelines – and taking pictures with several youngsters. He was predictably hesitant to accept credit for the win, turning his postgame interview session into praise for his teammates, who without Wells would have again traveled home demoralized from another disappointing loss.
“Well starting off, how about Jon Graham’s tip-in?” Wells said, ignoring the first question he was asked. “That was the play of the game for me. That was the play of the game. He played great tonight. But, uh, what was your question?”
Something big-picture, the reporter said, about how Maryland had lost to Ohio State by double figures and George Washington on a buzzer-beater, and how the Terps couldn’t afford a third straight loss before December’s end.
“I’m sorry,” Wells said. “I had to get that in.”
Then he continued.
“It’s been good,” he said. “It’s been a growing process for our team. Each team is new, each team is different each year. We’re figuring it out, how to be successful, what we need to do to be successful as a team on the court. Coach is doing an unbelievable job of coaching us hard and not giving us any breaks, because that’s what we need. That’s how great coaches are. That’s how great teams respond. We had a great win on the road against a great team, so I’m happy with that.”
Perhaps Wells sensed the frustration mounting for Turgeon among Maryland fans. Perhaps he singled out the coach on whom he could deflect acclaim. Wells had help early, getting another career scoring night from Roddy Peters (14 points) and 11 points from Nick Faust, but when Maryland needed to be carried, Wells squatted down and lifted everyone up.
“You could sense it,” Turgeon said. “He was just bigger and stronger than them. played downhill all night. Needed every one of those points. I was happy for him. Dez really cares. It’s been really hard for competitors, what we’re going through. For him to have a night like this, I’m really happy for him, because he takes losing harder than the rest of them.”