Terps seeking more first-half production from Dez Wells

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

With three games remaining in the Maryland basketball team’s regular season, guard Dez Wells leads the Terrapins in points per game, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assists, not to mention several other advanced statistics like possession rate, free throw rate and true shooting percentage. He has also reached double-digit scoring in 11 of the past 12 games, all without much production before halftime.

The splits have become glaring, enough to inhibit Wells from extrapolating his post-intermission dominance across full games. Though his rebounds, assists, turnovers, fouls and minutes essentially remain stagnant across both halves, his scoring numbers rocket skyward after the break. He is attempting nearly twice as many field goals, making more than twice as many shots, scoring more than twice as many points and shooting the ball, relative to Maryland’s offensive output, more than 10 percent more of the time.

(Shot percentage is an advanced metric measuring the percentage of shots a player takes when he’s on the floor, calculated according to analyst Ken Pomeroy by the following formula: PlayerFGA/(%Min*TeamFGA).

When asked about this discrepancy in the past, Wells has shrugged it off, chalking up the variance to circumstance. Perhaps the junior was more aggressive in the second half, like when he burned Duke for 17 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Or maybe early fouls kept him glued to the bench, like against Providence and Miami. Or sometimes, it’s just inexplicable.

“No,” Coach Mark Turgeon immediately responded Saturday, when asked the coaching staff had discovered a common symptom. Then he posited several theories. First, since Wells has grown into Maryland’s unquestioned leader, he begins games sacrificing himself for the greater cause, trying to ensure his teammates are into the game’s flow. “Then,” Turgeon said, “when it’s time he does his deal.”

Turgeon then mentioned the foul trouble, but Wells has committed more fouls on average during the second half of ACC games than he has during the first half. So maybe, Turgeon said, it was conserving energy, because when Wells turns into a human steam engine train in transition, he can become unstoppable.

“I don’t know,” Turgeon said. “He doesn’t get a lot of breaks. It’d be nice if he played a little bit better. It’d be nice. Just a little more consistent first half. Doesn’t have to be spectacular, just has to be consistently good.”

Averaged out over the season, Wells has still been Maryland’s best and most stable player, which makes the splits even more mystifying. He is averaging 15.3 points through 15 ACC games and scored at least 10 points in 10 halves during conference play, but eight of those instances have come after intermission. Further, Wells hasn’t taken more than six shots in a first half against an ACC team; he’s done that in the second half six times.

“No, I didn’t put more emphasis than I do any game,” Wells said after the Duke game, when he scored 15 of 17 after the break to nearly help Maryland score the road upset. “At the end of the day, I just want to come out here and win.”

And after the Syracuse game, when 13 of his 15 points came in the second half: “In the first half, when I caught it in the high post, I felt they were all on top of me. Second half, I just wanted to catch the ball and attack and be aggressive.”

At least one of his fellow Terps bought into the altruism theory. (Wells was not made available Saturday before the road trip to Clemson.)

“He’s trying to create for others,” point guard Seth Allen said. “He’s trying to let other people get going. In the second half, I’d say he has a good pace. Defenses get tired and he’s good in transition, so he gets the ball at half court and just attacks. That’s what he’s best at. Whenever the opportunity comes. I don’t think he waits until the second half. I think the crowd gets into it, he gets the adrenaline going, he has that takeover mentality.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.



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Alex Prewitt · March 1, 2014

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