Terps Crowned Champs, Wells Named MVP
ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- The Maryland men's basketball team departed for the United States Virgin Island's last Thursday in search of an identity. The Terps had just given up 90 points at home in a loss to Oregon State, and were 1-2 for the first time under head coach Mark Turgeon. But after playing three games in four days, including a 56-52 win over Providence on Monday night, the Terps return to College Park as the 2013 Paradise Jam Tournament Champions -- the program's first regular season championship since 2006.
Last night, Maryland led by as many as 19 points with just under 13 minutes left in the game. But the fatigue of playing three games in four days set in. The Terps went more than five minutes without a score as the Friars cut the lead to single digits before back-to-back scores from junior Dez Wells, who was named MVP of the tournament with an average of 12.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and three assists.
"I just knew I had to make something happen," said Wells, who scored 13 points and pulled down five boards against the Friars. "It didn't have to be just me scoring the ball, I just had to make something happen for my team to help stop the momentum and help stop the bleeding."
"He made some big time plays didn't he?" Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. "This was big for Dez."
Unlike their first two games this tournament, the Terps jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to a game-opening two handed slam by sophomore Shaquille Cleare (seven points, four rebounds) and back-to-back lay ups by Dez Wells. The Terps managed to close the half on a 12-2 run despite only nine minutes from Wells, who picked up his second foul midway through the first half.
"My guys were really focused right after the game ended last night," Turgeon said. "My guys were really determined that we were going to win this thing. We've let some things slip by us, and they weren't letting that happen again. We had to take care of business tonight."
Wells' limited minutes in the first half actually came in handy down the stretch, as the rest of the team was running on empty and in need of someone to takeover. After all, the Terps played two physical games en route to their championship bout with the Friars.
"I was going to be tired regardless," Wells said. "I didn't care about that. I just wanted to come out here and compete as hard as I could for my team. I was tired, but I pushed through it just like any other guy would've done who wants to win."
And it Wells who hit the game-sealing floater with just over a minute left and two free throws to seal the victory for the Terps.
"My mindset stays the same way," Wells said. "We are going to win this game regardless. I don't care what they do, what kind of special plays or what sets they put in. We're going to come up with this win. We defended and we did the things we needed to do late in the clock to come up with the win."
One of the biggest storylines of the tournament was the emergence of junior Evan Smotrycz, who was named to the All-Tournament team after a breakout weekend for the Michigan transfer. Smotrycz, who sat out the 2012-13 season due to transfer rules, found his rhythm on the court in St. Thomas. However, the versatile wing played a team-high 19 minutes in the first half against Providence, and finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
"This is a great step in the right direction. We want to build off this win," Smotrycz said. "We made a lot of mistakes tonight, but we defended well and we got our defense up and we executed in late stretches of the game."
Smotrycz showed his versatility, collecting his points in the paint and beyond the arc, alleviating pressure from the Terps' go-to sharpshooter Jake Layman (six points, seven rebounds, two blocks).
The team that arrived at University of the Virgin Islands' Sports and Fitness Center looked much different than the team that boarded the plane bound for the Tropics last Thursday, and not just because of their new tans. The Terps jubilantly cut down the nets, clad with ear-to-ear smiles and echoing laughter, armed with new-found confidence and the beginnings of an identity.
Namely, Maryland put together back-to-back solid defensive efforts, first against Northern Iowa on Sunday and again against Providence during the championship. The Terps held the Friars to 27.1 percent shooting, 18.8 percent from 3-point range, and out-rebounded the Friars 45-38.
"It's big because we didn't start the season off well and we were adjusting to being without Seth [Allen]. I think we've learned how to play now, this group," Turgeon said. "We've changed our identity from just a finesse team trying to outscore people, to really guarding."
The Terps head back to College Park on Tuesday with their championship gear and a swagger that, hopefully for them, won't fade.
"I didn't feel good about us Sunday night, but we had great practices. I knew we could play better, [but] I didn't know if we could do this. This was pretty big for us; hopefully it will give us confidence moving forward," Turgeon said. "We gutted it out. Thank god we built a big lead, but it's huge for our program. Anytime you win a championship it's big -- and you beat a quality team."
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