WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Alex Len and Devin Thomas sprawled on the floor, arms tangled together, each gripping the loose ball like it was a precious brick of gold. Whistles blared. Officials raised their thumbs to the ceiling, signaling a jump ball. Teammates poked their hands into the fray, trying to separate the fierce competitors who, in the most inconsequential of moments Saturday afternoon, wouldn’t let go.
But when Len rolled over Saturday, the ball still in his grasp and boos raining down on Maryland’s 7-foot-1 center at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, his teammates stood and applauded, just like they did when the clock ran out on a 67-57 win over Wake Forest, their second ACC road win this season. For once, Maryland didn’t back down away from home.
“That was our attitude today,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Hopefully it’ll carry forward the rest of the year.”
Maryland’s seesaw season was condensed into a single afternoon. There were the blown reverse layups and imprudent post-entry passes that have plagued the Terps throughout ACC play, as their season rapidly degenerated from postseason promise to its current state of flux.
But on the flipside was Dez Wells, Maryland’s road warrior who scored a team-high 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting. The Terps had coast-to-coast layups off aggressive steals and got nine points from both gunner Logan Aronhalt, all from beyond the arc, and sophomore Nick Faust. And Maryland played its most intense and dialed-in game since upsetting Duke two weeks earlier.
Wake Forest had no answer for Wells, the sophomore transfer who has been Maryland’s best and most consistent player away from College Park after a battle-tested freshman season with Xavier. He stole passes and deposited two-handed dunks. He posted up inside against smaller defenders for easy layups.
The Terps had slogged through a slack effort in a loss three days earlier at Georgia Tech, their NCAA tournament at-large chances all but buried. They spent their next two days stewing far from home, because the short road trip did not afford them a chance to return to College Park. Turgeon eschewed offense altogether during Thursday’s film review and Friday’s practice and left his starting lineup up to his assistants, who based their choices exclusively on defensive effort.
The result was a veteran-laden group that started the season’s first 10 games. Junior guard Pe’Shon Howard, making his first start since Jan. 9, finished with eight points, four assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes, one more than his past three games combined, while limiting Wake Forest senior C.J. Harris to 5-of-16 shooting.
“We just competed today,” Turgeon said. “We had an attitude that we weren’t going to lose. We hung our heads pretty quickly as players and as a coaching staff on Wednesday, because we were just so out of it. I think we were inspired today. I thought we were fresh. I think we were together.
“It was kind of like the Duke game at home. No matter what happens, we’re going to figure it out.”
Maryland looked ready to foul itself out of the game after intermission, picking up seven team fouls less than four minutes into the second half and allowing Wake Forest to go on a 9-0 run. Less than a minute into the half, both Len and Wells picked up their third fouls.
But Len (five points, 10 rebounds) and Wells returned to the court together with about 15 minutes left and never picked up another foul, “which is showing them growing up,” Turgeon said. Maryland, which had been sunk by slow second-half starts in losses at Georgia Tech and Boston College, followed with a five-point burst that set the tone for the rest of the game.
“The last couple days have been pretty fun,” Wells said. “We’ve just been trying to take a step back and take a deep breath. We didn’t want to pressure ourselves. We just wanted to be who we are.”