COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Perhaps Maryland’s 72-56 win over Oakland Dec.27 at Xfinity Center turned on a missed layup by Dez Wells. At least that’s what Wells, who turned from sideline observer to Terrapin linchpin, thought. “I missed a layup and I said to myself, ‘Forget this, if you’re going to be out here you’re going to attack the rim the way you know how to,’” he said. “I just decided to be aggressive.”
Wells’ missed chippy came on a strong drive just under five minutes to play and 15th-ranked Maryland (12-1) trying hold off a furious Oakland rally. The Golden Grizzlies (4-10) were within seven points when Wells missed but he would get another chance a minute later in a wild end-to-end sequence that decided matters.
Wells, who was back from a seven-game hiatus with a broken wrist, played with a small black band around the recovering left wrist and started slowly but then found his way with 10 points – seemingly all big – to go with four assists in 22 minutes.
“I thought he was extremely unselfish and of course he made big plays down the stretch,” said Turgeon of his favorite holiday stocking stuffer. “(Wells) is just so athletic. Defensively, we switched him over to guard No. 20 (Kahlil Felder), a heck of a player, and I thought he did a nice job.”
What Wells did most, though, was take heat off other Terps, including freshman point guard Melo Trimble who had a game-high 17 points and hit 6-of-8 shots, including a career-best 5-of-6 behind the arc. Jake Layman was happy to see Dez, too. He was 6-of-9 from the floor for 15 points and yanked down a career-high 12 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
“It’s nice having another scorer out there and a guy that can take over a game for a two-minutes span like he did out there,” said Layman. “It’s great to have him back. He’s one of our leaders and he makes us feel more comfortable out there.”
Trimble talked the intangibles the senior captain brought back to the team. “He brings energy and gets us more hyped for the game,” said Trimble, who had a small bandage on his head from an inadvertent Michal Cekovsky elbow. “Once he came in and told us to pick it up, that’s what we did.”
That Wells contribution came in the first half when he came on to pick up the pace and help Maryland to an 18-point halftime lead even without scoring. First, Wells had to raise his hand to acknowledge a long ovation from the Xfinity Center crowd of 12,936.
“It was emotional but we’ve got a game to play so I had to keep my emotions in check and just go out there and give it my all,” said Wells. “We did a good job tonight and I’m just proud of my guys for responding the right way.”
The Terrapins hope Wells, and Evan Smotrcyz, all of three games into his return from a foot injury, are fully integrated heading into the long-awaited Big Ten opener Tuesday at Michigan State. Truth be told, Oakland (actually located in Rochester, Mich., just outside of Detroit) gave the Terrapins a real push headed into the Big Ten schedule.
“I think since we’ve been back (from holiday break), our practices have been better,” said Turgeon. “Maybe it was just getting Dez Wells back. We didn’t quite practice as well when he was out and I didn’t think we were improving as much. Now that he’s back, we’re able to divide the team up, top guys against top guys, and that makes it pretty competitive.”
Maryland had just pushed what had once been a 23-point lead back to 12 points in the frantic second half but the Golden Grizzlies kept coming before dropping their fifth straight game. After trading baskets for a few possessions, Corey Petros got a three-point play and then Jalen Hayes scored down low to make it 63-56 at 4:15, both plays following that Wells’ miss he singled out.
Layman and Cekovsky broke up a lob play out of a timeout, and Ceko corralled the ball, got it to Trimble and the wily freshmen found Wells soaring to the basket for a dunk, and a huge turnaround that brought the nervous crowd back into the game. Wells scored on another layup 47 seconds later at 2:56 to make it 67-56, and the Terrapins had locked up their fourth consecutive victory.
“I think that was the biggest play of the game,” said Layman. “It changed the momentum in our favor. It got Dez going, too.”
Trimble didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger to Wells. “I was kind of nervous throwing it but he wanted it the way he was running so I just threw it up and he dunked it,” said the guard Turgeon calls a great “pitch-ahead” playmaker.
Oakland didn’t score again in the final 3:44, and finished shooting just 38.3 percent for the game. Trimble hit another three after a huge Layman offensive rebound, and Wells fed Ceko for a layup for the final points. Layman said guarding the power forward at the defensive end is what is upping his rebound totals – back-to-back double-doubles.
Wells’ well-timed 10 points were part of a big 27-13 Maryland advantage in bench scoring, an edge that helped overcome the 35-32 rebounding effort Oakland won, including 12 points in the paint in the second half.
The Golden Grizzlies were down 21 points early in the second half when they began clawing back. Oakland went on a 9-0 run led by Felder, who had five points during that span, including a big three at 14:57 to make it 44-32. Felder finished with 12 points but Hayes led Oakland with 13. The two combined to hit just 10 of 26 field goals, though.
Maryland had gone three minutes and 34 seconds without a field goal, and Wells had gone over seven games without one. He posted up, got the ball, backed in and hit a little one-hand turnaround at 14:04, to get the Terrapins going again.
“What he can do for them against us is when they got in trouble, he goes and makes plays,” said Oakland coach Greg Kampe.
In fact it was the veterans Wells and Smotrycz who would take over offensively over the next few minutes (with Trimble taking a break on the bench).
Smotrycz scored on one of those sneaky, slow-motion drives of his and then made a nifty, no-look bounce pass to Jon Graham for a layup. Wells hit a 15-footer. When Dion Wiley got two free throws at 10:45, the Maryland lead was back to 17 at 54-37.
But the Grizzlies weren’t ready to go into hibernation. Nick Daniels hit a three, then Dante Williams banked a 3-pointer in. Petros knocked down a hook shot and when Hayes scored on the low block, Oakland had closed back to 56-47 with 7:46 to play.
So, what do you do? What Turgeon did was put the ball in Wells’ hands high to create, and he did, finding Trimble, who got lost on the baseline. Wells’ skip pass resulted in a big 3-pointer and a 59-47 lead.
“You can’t really double Melo now as much as teams were,” said Turgeon. “The game was probably a lot easier for Melo.”
Richaud Pack had eight points, all in the first half, and Wiley chipped in five off the bench. Smotrycz had four points, four rebounds and two assists. Cekovsky had four points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and continues to grow his game each time out. Jared Nickens, on his birthday, made his third straight start and hit a 3-pointer.
“There are some guys that sit over there today that helped us get to 11-1, so we’ve got to figure it out,” said Turgeon of his rotation and the questions heading into Big Ten play.
For his part, Wells said he didn’t care what his role was, back in the starting lineup at Michigan State or coming off the bench. “I’m comfortable with any role I have on this team,” he said. “If I have to be the water-boy I’m going to be the best water-boy in the country.”
Wells said when he was sitting on the bench to start the second half that Maryland Video Coordinator Jonathan Trock told him he “looked passive,” and that spurred Wells, who had no points, one shot and one assist in 10 first-half minutes.
Maryland still led 37-19 at the half thanks to 48 percent shooting and some solid defensive spurts, including a game-turning one late in the first half.
It was 19-15 at 8:47, Oakland closing in after a Felder jumper, but that was the last bucket the Golden Grizzlies would get for six minutes and 29 seconds, as the Terrapins went on a 14-0 spree. Maryland led 33-15 after Layman, on his way to 11 first half points, hit two free throws at 3:16.
Pack started the run on a beautiful give-and-go from Dodd. Layman hit another layup but then Trimble took over with eight straight points on two threes and then a steal and layup before Layman finished the run. Trimble also had 11 first half points.
The Terrapins held Oakland to just 27.6 percent shooting (8-of-29) in the first half, and only 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Maryland was a torrid 5-of-11 behind the arc, Trimble 3-for-4.
Maryland had a nice little 8-2 spurt about the time that Wells and Smotrycz entered together at 14:05. Cekovsky hit a short hook created by a Wells’ drive, and Wiley and Trimble both canned 3-pointers, Trimble’s at 12:10 to make it 19-8, Maryland’s biggest lead to that point. The Terrapins held Oakland scoreless for 3:31 in building that lead.
The Terrapins hit three of their first five shots in a sluggish start for both teams, but that was good enough for a 9-4 lead at 16:23 on a Layman 3-pointer in transition. Layman would score seven of Maryland’s 11 points in the first five minutes.
The next home game is Jan. 3 against Minnesota, Maryland’s only home contest in the first four Big Ten games.
Terps Overcome Oakland
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