ACC tournament: Maryland’s Dez Wells ran out of steam against North Carolina

Just one day earlier, Maryland’s Dez Wells could do no wrong against mighty Duke. But with a chance to slay another of Tobacco Road’s giants Saturday, Wells couldn’t complete an entry pass.

Trailing North Carolina by three points with 2 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the ACC tournament semifinals, the Terrapins desperately wanted to get the ball inside to center Alex Len. So Wells stood patiently on the wing, right in front of Maryland’s bench, waiting for the right moment to feed his 7-foot-1 teammate posted up inside.

But when he finally attempted the pass, Tar Heels guard Reggie Bullock intercepted it, the only turnover credited to Wells the entire afternoon. And though he would go on to score four more points following that miscue, it came to encapsulate a day in which Wells simply couldn’t match the spectacular performances that had coaches and fans throughout Greensboro Coliseum in awe the previous two days.

“The ball just didn’t bounce my way today,” Wells said afterwards, still coming to grips with a valiant 79-76 loss to the Tar Heels that may very well relegate Maryland to the National Invitation Tournament.

Wells still finished with 15 points Saturday – two more than his season average — but it came on 6-of-15 shooting, more misses than he had the previous two games combined. Then again, following up the first two ACC tournament games of his career was going to be hard regardless of the situation.

In front of family members and friends who made the short drive from his home town of Raleigh, N.C., the sophomore drove to the basket at will for two days. He scored 21 points when Maryland bested Wake Forest in the first round Thursday. He then offered up a sublime performance against the Blue Devils, pouring in a career-high 30 points as the Terrapins scored a wire-to-wire victory to re-ignite their NCAA tournament hopes.

Ever since transferring to College Park this past August, though, Wells has morphed into Maryland’s unquestioned leader.

“If we had went till tomorrow, he would have probably been MVP of the tournament,” junior Pe’Shon Howard said. “He carried us, and he’s been carrying us all season.”

Howard said neither Wells nor the Terrapins dwelled for long on his heroics from Friday night, but conceded playing three games in three days may have affected Wells against the Tar Heels. Wells left several shot attempts short in the first half and missed his first two free throws of the game after going a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity stripe less than 24 hours earlier.

Wells said North Carolina didn’t guard him any differently than the Blue Devils, and instead lamented how he “missed so many easy shots that I would normally make.”

“You can’t live in the past. When you have a good game, you’ve got to move onto the next one. You’re only as good as your next game,” he said.

Added Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon: “Dez right now has one gear, and that’s getting to the rim. He made a couple jumpers, but his legs were tired. . . . If Dez had three or four shooters around him, it’d be different. But he doesn’t, so they can help off more and that makes it tougher. And [North Carolina] played the rim tough. He just didn’t finish. The great thing about Dez is, everyone knows he’s going to drive it and he still gets to the rim.

Nonetheless, Wells’s play drew raves from the opposing coach for a second straight day. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski talked Friday night of how Wells had elevated the rest of his team to another level, and North Carolina’s Roy Williams offered similar praise even after his team successfully corralled Wells.

“Dez almost carried them all the way back at the end, too,” Williams said. “I grabbed him [in the postgame handshake line] and told him he had a phenomenal performance for three days here. Build on that.”

So as he left the Greensboro Coliseum floor one last time, Wells put his arm around the shoulders of freshman Seth Allen for what he later called “a brother-to-brother moment.” The National Invitation Tournament, or perhaps even the NCAA tournament, will be on tap next week, but none of that made this latest loss any easier to swallow.

“It was just we both know how hard we worked to get here and we were just sad it ended that way,” Allen said of Wells’s embrace. “He gave everything he had.”

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