The man of the hour wanted a word with Dez Wells. Saturday was Chris Paul Day at Wake Forest, an emotional afternoon of celebration. The Los Angeles Clippers point guard returned home for 18 hours to see his jersey retired and likeness hung from the rafters of Joel Coliseum, not have the day spoiled by an unwanted visitor.
So when Wells, who played for the AAU Chris Paul All-Stars as a teenager growing up in Raleigh, idled around during halftime as Paul basked in the moment, his old friend offered some quick, mischievous advice.
“Slow down,” Paul told Wells.
Was Wells moving too fast? Were his playmaking abilities spinning out of control in transition? Should he moderate the pace in Maryland’s half-court offense? Not exactly.
“He said no,” Wells said. “Slow down. Don’t bust the score open on us. Let us back in.”
Wells had 11 points by that stage. The Terps held a 30-24 lead. Paul simply joked that Wells was ruining the party.
But Wells was just getting started.
The sophomore transfer came two points short of his career high, making 11 of 12 from the field and notching a game-high 23 points that sparked Maryland to a much-needed 67-57 win. Short of asking Paul to exchange his suave suit for a jersey so he could get on the floor to defend Wells, the Demon Deacons had no answer. Wells split defenders in transition and posted up in the half-court. None of Wells’s field-goal attempts came outside of the restricted area either.
“In previous games, like the Clemson games, I feel like I was getting away from what I do well, which is getting to the basket,” Wells said. “I was settling for a lot of jumpers, so I just wanted to get back to who I am as a player. I have a very improved jump shot, but that doesn’t make me. That’s not who I am as a basketball player. I can knock down open shots, but getting to the basket is my strength, and that’s something I really wanted to be aggressive about and get to the basket.”
That aggression has at times caused out-of-control mistakes from Wells, who averages a team-high three turnovers per game. But after Saturday’s first possession, a hasty entry pass to Alex Len that sailed out of bounds, Wells dialed things back and once again asserted himself as the team’s best road performer.
Wells averages 16.6 points per game in nine true road games. No other Terp player is in double figures, and only Alex Len (9.2 points per game) averages more than eight. He’s also shooting 65.1 percent on two-pointers, a smidge better than his season average of 59.7.
“He did a great job,” point guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “I remember one time, he was in transition, kind of went one-on-four but he was in control. I said, ‘Wow, that was a great take.’ We didn’t really get Alex involved as much, but there was one play where he ran really hard, Nick drove and it opened it up for Dez to get that ‘and-one.’ It was a great team effort. Everybody had their impressive moments in different ways.”
Wells far more so than others. Even with five glaring turnovers and a 1-for-5 performance from the free-throw line, the swingman mustered enough brilliance to help Maryland avoid another road letdown.
“I think it’s just aggressiveness, when he’s aggressive with the ball,” Logan Aronhalt said. “When we get up and down, he can get layups. He’s so strong, he can finish on anyone. Got to make his free throws, but when the game’s going up and down, we’re a dangerous team.”
Thirty-four seconds into the second half, after opening the period with a steal-and-dunk, Wells picked up his third foul and Coach Mark Turgeon sat him down. Wells re-entered the game four minutes later and did not pick up another foul the rest of the way.
“He just kept getting to the rim, played smart, got some early,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “He was aggressive. He’s back home, North Carolina. He’s our best road player, and he rubbed off on some guys today, which was great to see. Probably early. I worried a little when he picked up his third. Really, that was the key. We were up 10, they cut it to one, I had Dez and Alex on the bench, and called time out, put them in, and they didn’t foul the rest of the game, which is showing them growing up. That’s hard to do in such a physical game.”
Especially without slowing down.