Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon has repeatedly said that Dez Wells’s injury was a blessing in disguise for his team, which finished 6-1 in the seven games their leader missed with a fractured right wrist. It forced Jake Layman and Melo Trimble to shoulder more of an offensive load. It gave opportunities to freshmen Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley, and it gave Turgeon a chance to perpetually tinker with his rotation.
Wells returned and helped lift Maryland to a 72-56 win against Oakland on Saturday night, and there was little evidence that the team will have problems re-integrating the senior forward back into the fold. Wells played 22 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s nonconference finale, and he indicated he would be comfortable starting in Tuesday night’s Big Ten opener against Michigan State — if Turgeon decides to go that route.
“I’m comfortable with any role I have on this team, so if I have to be the water boy, I’m going to be the best water boy in the country,” said Wells, who finished with 10 points and four assists. “Hopefully I won’t have to do that, but Coach Turgeon is the mastermind. So I trust his decisions.”
Turgeon is now faced with many decisions in regard to his rotation. The fourth-year coach played 11 players Saturday, with all but two (Jon Graham and Varun Ram) playing 13 minutes or more. Nickens made his third consecutive start and Wiley was first off the bench, although the freshmen combined for just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Nickens (19), Wiley (13) and Richaud Pack (24) combined for 56 minutes.
That number could be cut into as Wells continues to get his feet back and Evan Smotrycz’s playing time stabilizes. Smotrycz had four points and four rebounds in Saturday’s win — and his return only further crowds a Maryland rotation that two weeks ago was without both Wells and Smotrycz.
Turgeon will also have to balance his front-court rotation with Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky. Dodd has been the entrenched starter over the past two weeks and played 15 minutes Saturday, while the freshman Cekovsky had four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes after logging just five against Oklahoma State.
“For me the hardest thing is figuring out our rotation, how we’re going to do it,” Turgeon said. “Because there’s some guys that sat over there today that helped us get to 11-1. So we’ve got to figure that out, which we will. We have a lot of good players.”
Turgeon has used six different starting lineups this season, with Trimble and Layman the only two players who have started all 13 games (Pack has started 12 and has led the team in plus/minus ratio for much of the season). Both Trimble and Layman were allowed to rest more because of the steady minutes from Wells on Saturday, and Layman in particular looked relaxed and took just nine shots. Trimble saw fewer double teams and took eight shots.
The quality of Maryland’s schedule over the next two weeks should help Turgeon iron out any personnel issues, starting with Tuesday night’s game at Michigan State. Then the Terps host Minnesota on Saturday and will travel to Illinois and Purdue the following week.
“We’ve got a lot of good players out there. … I think having everybody back kind of opens up the floor and takes a lot of pressure off the guys,” Turgeon said. “We’re still trying to figure it out.”