COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On the day he was named one of 50 finalists for the Wooden Award as college basketball’s top player, Dez Wells essentially showed those credentials to visiting Central Connecticut State.
The Maryland senior poured in 27 points and keyed a solid 93-47 win over the Blue Devils Nov. 17 in Xfinity Center that buoyed the Terrapins to 2-0 overall and 2-0 in the Northeast Conference (following Friday’s season-opening victory over Wagner).
“That’s a great honor, there have been a lot of great guys that have been selected so far,” said Wells of the Wooden Watch List. “But it doesn’t matter who starts on the list, it matters who finishes. We’ve just got to win and we have to do things the right way and everything else will fall into place.”
That’s the way it worked Nov. 17. Wells was deadly efficient with 10-of-15 shooting from the field, good on all three of his 3-point attempts and 4-of-6 at the line. His strength and athleticism going to the basket keyed a couple of Terrapin runs and allowed Maryland to record back-to-back 30 point victories for the first time since 2006.
“Absolutely (Wells) pays attention to it, and he should be on (the Wooden List),” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “Boy, was he good in the second half. I didn’t think he was particularly great in the first half and just talked to him about slowing down. I thought he made all the right decisions in the second half. He was terrific.”
The Terrapins saw Central Connecticut State (0-2) battle back to within 10 points to start the second half, and then Wells & Co., hit the gas. Maryland, befitting that new motion offense and all those shooters and passers introduced into the mix this year, shot 55.6 percent from the field (35-of-63), and were 19-of-32 (59.4 percent) in the second half.
When they were able to figure out what the Blue Devils were doing defensively – and it wasn’t easy with multiple changes and a funky match-up zone – Maryland was able to get a lot of easy baskets. The Terrapins had a 46-22 edge in points in the paint. Jon Graham started the second half to give the Terps more energy and his work in the middle helped open up things for Wells and Jake Layman, who had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, also very efficient.
“Dez and Jake were really good again,” said Turgeon who saw his team hit 10-of-23 3-point attempts (43.5 percent).
“(Wells) is our guy,” said Graham. “We always count on him and he always comes through for us. The team has tremendous confidence in him and I know he has confidence in himself.”
The Terrapins came out more aggressively in the second half, driving the ball harder to the basket to stymie Central Connecticut State’s switching-defense shenanigans and to earn more trips to the free throw line. They visited their beloved charity stripe just four times in the first half but finished 13-of-18 at the line, as they began to pull away in the second half. Wells had 17 of his points in that frame.
CCSU guard Matt Mobley, who had been a thorn in their side in the first half, scored to open the second, and knock the Terrapin lead down to 38-28. With Wells and Layman leading the way, Maryland scored 13 of the next 18 points to open it up to 51-33 at 16:09 on a Wells jumper. Layman had a 3-pointer and two free throws during the run, and Wells had another jumper.
“Honestly, I don’t care what the defense is doing, I’m going to attack regardless,” said Wells. “That’s the only way I know how to play the game.”
A 13-2 Maryland run soon followed, the full-court press speeding the Blue Devils up and freeing the Terrapins into a more open-court game. Wells had a three and a thunderous dunk to delight the home crowd of 8,612. Layman and Wells hit back-to-back threes to push the Maryland advantage to 64-36 at 12:11, on Wells’ bomb.
The Terrapins blocked six shots in the second half (nine for the game) as things sped up. The lead would reach 41 points, Graham scoring inside with 1:54 remaining to make it 93-52.
“I think we played pretty well in the second half but there’s room for improvement,” said Wells. “We were not as engaged as we should have been (in the first half) and that happens. We have a young team. If we want to win we have to make those adjustments and we have to get better.”
The two 30-point victories so far matches the total such wins under Turgeon here his first three years. The Terrapins are beating the teams they’re supposed to beat the way they’re supposed to beat them. Maryland had just one turnover in the second half and that was on an errant pass by the newest Terp, walk-on Trevor Amzmann in the final two minutes.
Maryland closes out its three-game homestand Thursday hosting Fordham at 7:30, in what amounts to a step up in competition. It gets even tougher next week when the Terrapins travel to the CBE Hall of Fame Classic to face Arizona State on Nov. 24, and then either Iowa State or Alabama the next day.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils were again without their best player, 6-4 senior guard Kyle Vinales, who faces assault charges stemming from a late October incident. A preseason All-NEC pick, Vinales averages 17.3 ppg last season, but his scoring slack was ably picked up by sophomore guard Mobley who had 24 points but also seven turnovers as Richaud Pack and Wells took turns guarding him.
Freshmen Melo Trimble and Dion Wiley each chipped in 10 points, and Trimble just missed his first double-double with a game-high nine rebounds. He also had four assists and two turnovers in 27 minutes.
“Melo did not really play well,” said Turgeon. “My expectations for him are pretty high and he had 10 and nine. His decision-making wasn’t what it needed to be and he’s a better decision-maker than that. We wanted to play a little bit faster and we started to speed up in the second half. We’d get stops and kind of jog the ball up.”
Wiley had five rebounds and two assists. Jared Nickens had five points, hit a big three against the zone and added two steals. Checking in on all the freshmen, Michal Cekovsky had four points (2-of-2 shooting), two rebounds and three blocked shots.
Damonte Dodd, who started, was 3-of-3 from the field, had seven points and five rebounds and blocked four shots in 16 minutes. Graham had eight points, two boards and a block and a steal. He hit 4-of-6 shots. Turgeon said he started Dodd for rotation reasons, and then turned to Graham for energy to start the second half.
The gist of the issue is that with Evan Smotrycz out, Maryland doesn’t often practice with Dodd and Cekovsky playing together so it’s difficult to pair them together in games.
Pack had eight points, four rebounds and four assists in another stellar showing.
“I thought we got better in the second half which is good this time of year,” said Turgeon.
Maryland led 38-26 at the end of the first half but couldn’t shake the pesky Blue Devils, who pushed the ball when possible, and seemed to confuse Maryland with a morphing 2-3 zone that slowed the halfcourt offense.
The Terrapins had opened an 8-1 lead, and led 19-6 before the Blue Devils got warmed up. To that point, CCSU had hit just 2-of-11 shots and was getting drilled 12-4 on the boards. Maryland was getting a lot done inside – Layman backed in for a scoop to start the game, Dodd got an easy lay-in off a feed from Wells, Layman got a backdoor layup and there was a Pack a stickback in the early onslaught.
The Terrapins were cruising at 24-8 at 9:42, when Trimble buried a three-pointer. But CCSU’s changing defenses, including a lot of zone after opening in man-to-man, seemed to slow the Terrapins, particularly the freshmen who looked tentative against the sagging zone.
The Blue Devils went on a 14-4 spree to close to 28-22, at 4:44 on a baseline jumper from Mobley, who had nine points during the run and 14 in the first half, coming off a 30-point effort at Fairfield Friday.
Wells stopped the bleeding with a driving score, and then got a steal and a flagrant foul. He hit one free throw to make it 31-22, and then Pack got a steal in the full-court press and fed Wiley for a bucket. Wells got a steal and another hoop, and suddenly it was 35-22 at 2:29. Wiley hit a three at 1:43 to make it a 10-0 run, and jack the lead back to 16 points.
“You don’t want to press a team that you know you’re going to beat but we needed energy, we didn’t have any,” said Turgeon. “The press gave us energy.”
But relentless CCSU got the last two baskets of the half and closed it back down to a 12-point margin. The Blue Devils attacked Maryland at every opportunity, especially off the eight Terrapin turnovers in the first half and the eight missed 3-pointers. The Terrapins shot 16-31 (51.6 percent) and held a slim 19-16 rebounding edge at the break.
“I thought the game started a little too easy for us and we got complacent, and then they got hot,” said Turgeon. “Mobley’s a good player. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t recognize him as well as I would have liked us to in the scouting report on some situations. I thought the second half we played with some energy and really shared the ball.”
Maryland had 15 assists and finished with just 10 turnovers.
Wells’ Winning Ways Push Terps to 2-0
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