ACC tournament: Dez Wells lifts Maryland to upset of Duke with career-high 30 points

Growing up in nearby Raleigh, Dez Wells idolized Duke’s legendary players, penning letters to his heroes. Yet here he was on the Greensboro Coliseum court, cradling the basketball as the clock ticked down against the Blue Devils, another virtuoso performance in the books.

The sophomore transfer, who arrived in College Park last August amid personal turmoil and uncertainty surrounding his expulsion from Xavier, outshined the team he used to root for in Friday’s ACC quarterfinals, dropping a career-high 30 points in seventh-seeded Maryland’s 83-74 upset of second-seeded Duke. Thanks to their unquestioned leader, who shot 9 for 13 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free throw line, the Terrapins never trailed. They moved on to a semifinal date Saturday against No. 3 seed North Carolina.

After shooting 7 for 10 from the field and notching 21 points in Thursday’s opening-round win over Wake Forest, Wells one-upped himself. But had his teammates not kept things close in the second half, the Terps might have been forced onto one more sleepless flight home to College Park, sulking after another late collapse.

Instead, they hit a season-best 92 percent of their free throws. They outrebounded the Blue Devils by 10. Duke shot 33.3 percent from the field in the first half and 16 percent on three-pointers for the game. Ryan Kelly, with whom the Blue Devils entered a perfect 18-0 this season, missed all six shots from beyond the arc. By the time Wells slapped the floor with five minutes left, mimicking Duke’s signature defensive move, the Terps were in full control.

“I was trying to energize my guys, and at that moment I was thinking we have to get a stop,” Wells said. “I do whatever I have to do to get my guys pumped. No shots at Duke or anything like that. I just wanted to get my guys energized.”

Consider it done. Greensboro Coliseum had been a second home to Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad in recent years. The Blue Devils had made six straight ACC tournament finals when the event was hosted here. But it was also the site of last season’s NCAA tournament disaster, when they were upset by 15th-seeded Lehigh. Now, all Krzyzewski could do was embrace Wells during the postgame handshake and whisper in his ear, “Good game.”

“Wells built on his performance from last night,” Krzyzewski said. “A lot of times in tournaments, one player elevates his game. He’s had a good year, and he’s a really good player. But in these two games, he’s elevated himself to really a high level and you can bring everybody with you when you start playing with a guy who’s doing that.”

Entering the event, Maryland insisted it was built for a multi-day tournament. And even with a trimmed rotation — James Padgett didn’t play and Logan Aronhalt appeared for two minutes — the Terps operated to their full potential. Jake Layman, Alex Len, Seth Allen and Nick Faust had 10 points each. Shaq Cleare bodied up Mason Plumlee (team-high 19 points). Pe’Shon Howard continued his postseason resurgence, hounding Duke’s Seth Curry (15 points) and finishing with five assists and zero turnovers. The postgame message was clear: Wells deserved the game ball, but it was a team win.

“You know what, they’re figuring it out,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “The thing is, take me out of it, they’re gaining confidence in each other and how they need to play to win. I’m just over there putting guys in, but they’re figuring it out as a group. They have respect for each other as people and now they’re getting respect for each other as players and they’re playing that way as a team.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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