COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- With 6.1 seconds left against Connecticut, Maryland tailed by one. Coming out of the timeout, junior Evan Smotrycz stood at midcourt waiting to inbound the ball with his eyes set on Dez Wells. Wells created separation, running off the shoulder of power forward Charles Mitchell. The Terps' junior collected a bounce pass from Smotrycz, as the seconds starting running off the clock. He lifted his head to see three UConn players in front of him, and his teammate, Nick Faust, tucked neatly in the corner staring at him helplessly with his hands extended.
The seconds continued to tick away as Wells, drove away from his teammate and settled for a pull-up jumper about a foot the 3-point line. The shot bounced softly off the back iron, and dribbled off the front of the rim into the hands of Connecticut forward Terence Samuel, ending any hope Maryland had of wining the game.
That sequence has defined Wells' first two games this year -- just a bit off.
When sophomore Seth Allen fractured a bone in his foot just before the start of the regular season, head coach Mark Turgeon didn't have many options. Should he throw raw but talented freshman Roddy Peters into the fire against a nationally-ranked Connecticut team? Or should he choose his top returning player, Wells, to handle the point guard duties?
Turgeon opted for the latter, and thus began the Wells point guard experiment.
Wells worked out some kinks against Catholic in an exhibition game on Nov. 3 before the first true test of the season against Connecticut at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 8. Wells failed to pass either test with flying colors. In 24 minutes against Catholic, Wells had just seven points, three assists, two turnovers and two steals, a far cry from the double-digit scoring performances he finished the season with last year.
A natural wing, Wells never seemed to find a rhythm running the offense, even against a far less-talented Catholic team. After the game, Wells noted he needed to make some adjustments, but he was adamant that he would be comfortable and ready to run the point for the Terps primetime tip-off showdown against Connecticut.
Easier said then done.
Wells started the game with two back-to-back turnovers. In fact, he turned the ball over on his first two touches of the game, and then again midway through the first half. The offense couldn't find its rhythm, and neither could Wells. He turned the ball over for the fifth time with just about 13 minutes left, and his sixth less than two minutes later. The frustration was written all over his face and in his body language.
Peters and Faust pitched in bringing up the ball for the rest of the game, and Wells showed flashes of his potential at the end of the UConn contest, including hitting a jumper to cut the Huskies' lead to one late.
Then came Abilene Christian. The Terps came out looking sluggish, and their point guard was not exempt from the lackluster start. Wells once again started off with a turnover, and five minutes in Turgeon had seen enough.
Wells headed to the bench, but not without expressing his displeasure to his head coach.
Wells stayed on the bench until about a minute into the second half, only playing a total of 19 minutes in game.
"I was frustrated because it was his ninth turnover in about 38 minutes of playing time. So he's frustrated I'm frustrated, he can't turn the ball over and it was just a lazy play," Turgeon said. "It was a culmination of six turnovers against Connecticut and three quick ones in that game, but we all get frustrated when your not playing well and your not playing hard its real easy to get frustrated."
Wells expressed his frustration to his teammate John Ausslander, who did his best to settle his teammate down.
"Me and Dez talk a lot. We both like to think that we are leaders and I just wanted to help see where he was coming from and he was just coming to me to get some advice," Ausslander said. "I was just trying to help listen to him, calm him down, and make sure he kept him head in the game, got back in there."
Wells did finally get back on the court about a minute into the second half, but he didn't put up big numbers. He left that to sophomore Jake Layman, who knocked in 14 second half points, but Wells did the dirty work that helped spark the Terps on a 29-0 run to close the game.
"He was the one who really got Jake going," Turgeon said. "He is the one who found Jake on a lot of those. He had a couple of sloppy turnovers early, really wasn't into it. Second half I don't think he turned it over, he did a lot of nice things. I thought he got the break going. He played with energy."
After the game, Turgeon was quick to ensure that any rift between he and his junior point guard had already been smoothed.
"Dez and I have a great relationship," the coach said. "Not a good one, a great one. So I'm not concerned about it at all. This early in the season, you've got to set the rules."
While the rift has been smoothed, Maryland's point guard problems remain. Still, the Terps are just two games into the season, and Turgeon knows there is still a lot of learning left for this team to do.
"I hear NBA teams talking about ‘Oh we are just getting started,' well they have already played like 16 games. They had like eight in the preseason and like 8 games already," Turgeon said after practice on Friday. "Can you imagine where we will be in 16 games compared to where we are now? So hopefully we will be better Sunday then we were in our first two games."
Wells Adapting to New Role
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