Dez Wells was out of words, burdened by the events that unfolded minutes before, somber and drained near the loading dock of Florida State’s Tucker Center. Teammates walked by, including some who had shed tears in the locker room, themselves crushed under the weight of Michael Snaer’s game-winning three-pointer.
In less than six months with the Maryland men’s basketball team since arriving from Xavier, Wells has become the team’s unquestioned leader, a sophomore who accepts fault for mistakes. He deflects criticism from his peers and accepts the burden because, in his words, someone like himself should have been better prepared.
The lasting image from Wednesday night will be Snaer, alone in the left corner, taking a deep breath and then hoisting the dagger, while five Maryland defenders collapsed on a stumbling Ian Miller in the paint. Wells marked Snaer, but like his teammates helped middle, leaving Snaer alone in the corner. Then, with 1.1 seconds remaining, Wells hauled in a baseball pass from Charles Mitchell and got an open look at a deep three-pointer, but it sailed harmlessly wide left, time officially running out at another Maryland road loss.
But it’s hard to find fault with Wells’s performance against the Seminoles. He finished with 19 points and made 66.7 percent of his field goal attempts, a number that shoots up to 72.7 discounting that desperation heave. On a night when Alex Len played an ineffective 17 minutes, when Seth Allen was sick and shot 1 for 6 in 16 minutes, and when James Padgett played 10 more minutes than he did in the past three games combined, Wells was the brightest spot, carrying the Terps until Snaer got the last laugh.
“Wow. He was fantastic,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Made some really tough shots to start the second half, out of one of our series. Made just two huge shots late, one we thought was a three, was a two. Then the three. First time we’ve really played with poise offensively. Takes time. You look at the players they had on the floor late, compared to some of our young guys out there. There’s a difference.”
Turgeon may find fault with Wells’s six turnovers, a number that clearly must come down but included a speedy post-entry pass Mitchell couldn’t handle, but had Wells not single-handedly kept Maryland around, Snaer’s heroics wouldn’t have mattered.
To wit, with Maryland up 64-62 after two free throws from Kiel Turpin, Wells dribbled near midcourt, motioning for a screen that never came. So he jabbed right and crossed over left, lofting a pretty baseline floater. Three possessions later, another offensive breakdown occurred. Again, plays never developed, so with the shot clock winding down, Wells drained a three-pointer from the top of the key.
The sophomore swingman entered shooting 52.8 percent from the field, but just 25 percent from beyond the arc, struggling with any shot outside of five feet. But against Florida State, Wells splashed step-back jumpers and mid-range pull-ups, flashing previously unseen skills at the most important time.
“Dez is a great player, and great players hit big shots,” Padgett said. “He was hitting big shots when we needed them. It was good for the team, and it kept us in the game.”
>> The Terps played without Pe’Shon Howard, who didn’t make the trip with what team officials called the flu. Pressed for any further detail during his postgame press conference, Turgeon simply said: “Just got a flu. So we’ll see when we get home.”
According to Turgeon, Allen also played sick. “Seth wasn’t feeling well, either,” Turgeon said. “Took medicine, tried to play.” Allen played just three minutes after halftime, benched for good following a rough stretch to start the second half, despite receiving his fifth career start in Turgeon’s 10th different lineup of the season.
>> With Len hampered by early foul trouble, Padgett played 19 minutes in the second half, scoring six points and snatching three rebounds. This all comes after playing 21 minutes in the past three games combined.
Turgeon has lauded Padgett’s veteran leadership before, but his playing time dwindled when Padgett’s production simply didn’t match up. If the Terps can receive these types of minutes from the senior, however, their interior depth gets bolstered substantially, allowing them to hang around games even with Len disappearing.
“It shows we have a deep bench,” Padgett said. “Anybody can step up, play well on any given night.”
Logan Aronhalt also played a solid 19 minutes, his most since the Maryland-Eastern Shore game on Dec. 5 and second most this season. He shot just 3 for 9 from the field, but finished with 11 points, also seeing crucial minutes down the stretch.
>> For the first half, it appeared that Maryland was destined for its best free throw shooting performance this season, making 10 of 12 attempts, its first time with double-digit makes since the Virginia Tech game. But that aggressiveness in traffic and poise from the line disappeared after intermission.
Only Mitchell and Faust reached the charity stripe in the second half. Mitchell held up his end with two makes that brought Maryland’s lead to 64-60, but Faust, minutes after nailing the back end of a four-point play, missed three in a four-minute span.
Florida State, meanwhile, was 14 for 16 from the line in the second half.
“We had two possessions in a row, two out of three where we just fouled and we put [Okaro] White to the line,” Turgeon said. “One on the block, late in the shot clock, then Nick runs over White. So we just gave them four points that they didn’t have to earn. Those hurt you. Those little things we that we’ll get better at as this young team grows.”
>> Presented without comment, this is where all the Maryland players were when Snaer caught the pass. Screenshot from a YouTube video courtesy of Rob Dauster.