CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The smile came first, then the hug and finally the high-five. Maryland guard Dez Wells had hop-stepped his way into the paint, drawn contact from a Boston College defender and sank the basket, all while gliding in midair to his left. As he walked toward the free throw line, the parade of teammates lined up to greet him, because at this moment, with the Terrapins clinging to a one-point lead, it seemed the Eagles could play no defense and, consequently, Wells could do no wrong.
In past years, this is where energy came to die. Maryland has always struggled inside Conte Forum, whether shaken by the half-full crowds, long northbound travel schedule or some other mystifying force. But as Thursday night’s 88-80 win over Boston College was increasingly in jeopardy, Wells turned the building into his personal layup line. He notched a career-high 33 points, including 18 over the final seven minutes, to help the Terps pull away in their conference opener.
“You could sense it,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “He was just bigger and stronger than them. Played downhill all night. Needed every one of those points. . . . It was fun to watch.”
Following the penultimate media timeout, the Terps joined their coach in spectating the show, when Wells outscored the Eagles, 18-16, until the final buzzer. He steamrolled in transition and knifed through traffic for easy layups. He absorbed fouls and made free throws. Boston College was playing matador defense, stepping aside for the junior chugging down the lane, the one who lifted his teammates and carried them away.
“He just told me to be who I am,” Wells said of Turgeon. “He told me don’t get away from who you are. He told me I’ve worked hard on my game this offseason, and during the season you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Just go out there and be who you are and what you’ve worked on, all that stuff, let it show.”
Both teams desperately needed this win. Boston College (3-7) played a grueling nonconference schedule and paid dearly with six losses before mid-December. Maryland (6-4), meanwhile, limped into its last ACC season on the program’s worst nine-game start since the mid-1980s.
With injured sophomore Seth Allen sitting courtside dressed in warmup fatigues, his broken foot still three weeks away from fully healing, Turgeon again fiddled with his starting lineup in hopes of finding a temporary solution at point guard. Wells didn’t work; his production suffered when also burdened with handling the basketball. The Varun Ram experiment lasted less than two minutes on Sunday against George Washington, when a pair of quick fouls halted his afternoon early.
And so, when Roddy Peters was whistled for a hand-check foul 11 seconds into Thursday night and soon after lost a dribble out of bounds, it seemed like another long night for Maryland’s back court. But who needs point guards when seemingly every shot drops through the net? After making just 18.9 percent of three-pointers over the past two games, Maryland dashed to a 23-11 lead with crisp ball movement that unearthed open looks around the perimeter.
Soon the Eagles climbed back, gaining their first lead midway through the second half on consecutive three-pointers from reserve Garland Owens (16 points) and two free throws from leading scorer Olivier Hanlan (26 points). When guard Joe Rahon shook a mini-slump to swish another three-pointer, Boston College had a four-point lead and Turgeon refused to wait for the upcoming media timeout. He wanted to discuss matters at that moment, and inside the huddle, the message was simple.
“Okay, let’s use clock,” Turgeon told the Terps. “Then let Dez do his deal.”
As it turned out, Turgeon couldn’t have scripted anything more effective than what unfolded. The Terps ultimately received a balance scoring effort — Peters (14 points), Jake Layman (13 points) and Nick Faust (11 points) all finished in double figures — but the final act belonged to Wells. At one point, he had scored 16 of 20 Maryland points. Four of those makes also drew fouls and sent him to the free throw line, where smiles and hugs and high-fives awaited.
“Towards the end of the game,” Layman said, “he was unstoppable.”