COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Eighteen minutes and 28 seconds into its 2014-15 campaign, Maryland saw its season flash before its collective eyes. The Terps’ most reliable offensive threat and the squad’s unquestioned leader, Dez Wells, collapsed in a heap after driving the lane and taking a jump stop with 1:32 left in the first half against Wagner Nov. 14. Ten-thousand strong at the Xfinity Center suddenly went silent, their eyes glued to the far baseline as head coach Mark Turgeon and assistant Nima Omidvar hovered over the felled senior.
After a minute or so, though, Wells slowly rose to his feet, a noticeable grimace smeared across his face. He gingerly walked across the floor under his own power, exiting stage left so trainer Matt Chavrat could take a closer look at what seemed to be a severe ankle sprain -- or worse.
“He hasn’t gone down like that, even in practice,” Turgeon said after Maryland’s 82-48 victory Nov. 14. “Sometimes you get used to guys when they go down... But the way his ankle looked, I thought it was something much worse. He has a bad ankle. He tweaks it once every three days.”
“I actually don’t know if I stepped on somebody’s foot or just rolled it on my own. It was one of those things where the initial shock of it … I felt it,” Wells said. “I definitely felt it. I had to walk it off.”
Fortunately for Wells and Terrapin nation that’s the only medicine the forward needed. In fact, even though Maryland was well in control by that point, up 43-17, he was on the floor to start the second half.
“The first thing I was saying to everybody, the young guys, just to make sure they weren’t worried too much, I was saying, ‘He’ll be alright, he’s good,’” said junior Jake Layman, who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “And fortunately it turned out he was fine.
“If [the injury] was worse, it would have been huge. That’s obvious. But it didn’t happen, so…”
Turgeon said when he walked into the locker room at halftime he was surprised. The trainer Chavrat let him know Wells’ pain had subsided after just a couple minutes and he was good to go.
“I’m sure he’ll be a little sore tonight, a little sore tomorrow, but he’s fine,” Turgeon said. “We just have to tighten it up… he’s a tough kid.”
Thus, Wells didn’t miss a beat, recording two layups to start the latter 20 minutes. He ended up scoring nine second-half points, giving him a game-high 18, to go along with a block, a steal and three rebounds.
Some questioned whether Wells should have gone back in considering the score and the opponent. Why risk hurting the ankle more in a game that was basically over in the first 10 minutes?
“[Turgeon] trusts me, I trust him, and we go with our guts. I was fine, so I went back in,” Wells said. “That’s how it is.
“Man I’ve rolled my ankle so many times it’s just like waking up in the morning now, you know? You know, bend but don’t break. I was fine. I’ve twisted it many times. You just get up, dust it off and keep going. That’s just how it is.”
Indeed. It’s that kind of mentality that endears the senior to his teammates. That’s why he’s been the squad’s leader and face of the program practically since he arrived in College Park after transferring from Xavier three years ago.
“It [coming back in the second half] shows Dez is Dez. That’s what he does,” transfer Richaud Pack said. “He’s a tough player, he fights, and since I’ve been here all I’ve seen him do is persevere through any challenges he’s faced with.”
As for his play, Wells, always his own harshest critic, said he did “OK.” Turgeon, though, was much more effusive in his praise. The Terps’ headman said his forward was “great” and basically put on a clinic slicing through the Wagner defense.
“They pressured us, and he’s the one guy who could go around them, get to the rim and finish,” Turgeon said. “Defensively he really competed. I wish he could have rebounded a little more for us … but I thought he was good.”
Yes, Wells, like the rest of the team, wasn't perfect Nov. 14. Wagner only shot 27 percent from the floor, turned the ball over 11 times and was out-rebounded 44-35, but the Seahawks did grab 17 offensive rebounds, which irked UMD. Moreover, Maryland coughed the ball up 14 times and looked a little sloppy at times.
At the same time, the Terps moved the ball well and seemed keen on making the extra pass. They ended up shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range, which had as much to do with working the ball inside-out and around the perimeter as it did the players’ strokes.
“I wouldn’t say great; I thought we did OK… I felt our ball movement was good, but I feel it could get better,” Wells said. “But I think we’ve bought into what Coach Turgeon wants us to do. Everybody’s bought in, everybody wants to win, everyone wants everyone else to succeed. No egos.
“I think this win was a great start for us,” he continued. “But it really doesn’t matter how you start the season – it’s how you finish it.”
Wells certainly finished with aplomb Nov. 14. And he’ll need more performances like that as the Terps move into the heart of their schedule.
Sans ankle injuries, of course.
Wells Survives Scare, Leads Terps
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