The sophomore swingman set a career high in points for the second straight game, finishing with 25 on 11-of-17 shooting to navigate Maryland through stormy weather at Sunday’s BB&T Classic and into a 69-62 win over George Mason.
The Xavier transfer carried the Terps until a host of teammates found their groove down the stretch, escaping with their sixth straight win since the season-opening loss at Kentucky.
“The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to go today. But it’s going to help us,” Turgeon said. “I can look across this sheet [at the box score]. We played 10 guys, every one of them played well defensively for us. That’s comforting. That wasn’t the case 10 days ago. I can look at this sheet and know guys have really grown up defensively and are dialed in.”
Clinging to a 47-45 lead after Wells’s 11th field goal, the Terrapins turned to their other starters. They got six points from James Padgett and Nick Faust, four from Alex Len and two from Pe’Shon Howard to inch away. Twelve of those 16 points came from the free-throw line as Maryland crawled toward a 65-56 lead with less than three minutes left.
Trading baskets throughout the second half, Maryland withstood a late George Mason rally that cut the margin to 65-60 after two Sherrod Wright free throws and a slicing layup from Jonathan Arledge in transition. Given a chance to ice the game with one minute left, Faust rimmed out two free throws and Wells hit one of two seconds later, but Howard hit both ends of his two foul shots and Faust did the same.
Despite shooting 59 percent on free throws, 17 of Maryland’s final 23 points came from the stripe. The Terps didn’t make a jump shot after halftime.
“That’s the good thing. Each game’s different,” Turgeon said. “You figure out a way to win. If you’re not going to make jump shots you better get to the foul line. We didn’t make them, so you better get second-chance points or get to the rim. We’ll make them as the season goes on.”
Had Wells not electrified the Verizon Center crowd, though, points early would have been hard to come by. During media availability Saturday, Wells told reporters that he began watching YouTube videos of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, zeroing in on their defensive presence.
“I want to step up and really establish myself as one of the best defenders in the country,” Wells said then.
Developing into an elite scorer will have to do for now. Wells became the first ACC player to notch 11 field goals in a game this season. Often seen at the center of pregame huddles, pumping up his teammates like a bouncing bulls-eye of emotion, he scored Maryland’s first eight points with a combination of levitating layups and pull-up jumpers, but was relatively silent from the field until a transition runner and a three-pointer gave the Terps a 34-30 lead entering halftime.
“Whatever my team needs from me, that’s what I’m going to provide,” Wells said. “I don’t want to make this about myself because I couldn’t have done this without my team. They welcomed me with open arms when I first got here and I couldn’t have done any of this without those guys. My coaches have also done a great job developing my game and helping me and stringing me along with everything that’s happened to me. They have been here like a family. We’re just getting closer every game.”
Dating from Tuesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge blowout at Northwestern, Wells has scored 48 points over the past two games. Faust added 14 points despite shooting 3 of 10 from the field, playing his best perimeter defense of the season, while Len chipped in 12 points and nine rebounds. Only seven Terps scored, the fewest this season for an otherwise extremely balanced offense, while Wright and Patrick Holloway each had 17 for George Mason (5-3).
But in games when shots aren’t falling and turnovers are plentiful, Maryland can rest on its defense and rebounding, staples of any Turgeon-coached team.
“We’re feeling pretty comfortable right now, learning a lot about each other,” Len said. “We’re playing more as a team. Young guys have grown a lot from two months ago until now. We’re playing great defense as a team, helping out. It’s good for us. Everybody goes on the boards.”
Having Wells perform like this probably doesn’t hurt either.