Wells Works Into Flow, Terps Travel To IU

Maryland (17-2) will travel to Bloomington, Ind., Jan. 22 for a 9 p.m. game against Indiana (14-4).

The stats weren’t particularly eye-popping, but those who have watched Maryland senior wing Dez Wells closely this year know his performance in the Terps’ 75-59 victory against Michigan State Jan. 17 ranked among his best in 2014-15. For every momentum swinging bucket the dynamic Wells has scored (see: Michigan State on Dec. 30, Purdue on Jan. 10), the senior has given some back with turnovers, wild shots and spates of out-of-control play.

During the Terps’ 73-65 win over Rutgers Jan. 14, Wells scored 17 points, but he was 4-of-15 from the floor, coughed the ball up three times and, most egregiously, tried to carry the entire offense on his back. Instead of working within the system, Wells slashed and burned to the hoop, rendering his teammates motionless corpses.

But the second MSU bout was a different tale altogether. Wells attempted just seven shots, one in the first half, and made a concerted effort to move the ball. He scored nine points, about five short of his 13.7 points per game average, but dished out five assists against two turnovers.

The Terps didn’t shoot lights out against MSU (44 percent), but their offense reverted to early-season form, complete with spacing, extra passes and sound decision making. They ended up with 11 assists against eight turnovers, well below their 12.4 miscues-per-game season average.

“It was good to see,” Terps head coach Mark Turgeon said of Wells during his Jan. 19 conference call. “The first half [against MSU] he took one shot; he was a little more aggressive in the second half. We had a long chat [Jan. 15] about the way he played against Rutgers. He helped us win that game, there’s no doubt, but being in control, finding his teammates – I thought he did that [against Michigan State].

“Five assists, two turnovers, and he did a great job on [Denzel] Valentine and whoever else he was guarding. It’s a step in the right direction. He’s still not 100 percent, but I think he’s getting closer to healthy and will continue to contribute for us as the season moves on.”

Wells’ improved play has already caught the eye of Maryland’s next opponent, Indiana, which hosts UMD Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Crean lauded practically the Terps’ entire roster, but made sure to mention their senior wing.

“What they have is tremendous versatility. They have a lot of matchup issues all over the court, particularly Dez Wells, the ways he can pass it, especially form the low post,” Crean said.

Speaking of passing the ball, freshman point guard Melo Trimble has continued to dish at a high level.

And run the offense. And penetrate. And draw fouls. And connect at the line. And play defense.

Trimble, though, entered the national consciousness (to a greater extent then he already had) with a scintillating performance against Michigan State, connecting on 8-of-16 shots, including 6-of-11 3-pointers, headlined by a SportsCenter Top 10 And-1-Mix-Tape move that ended in a step-back triple.

Trimble finished with 24 points to go along with three assists and a steal, while helping to hold his MSU counterpart, Travis Trice, to just five points. Trice, of course, dropped 26 on Maryland during the first meeting.

Turgeon has taken to limiting his Trimble praise of late, instead allowing others to talk up his freshman sensation.

“He’s really smart, he’s really crafty, and even when he’s not shooting well, he can get to the line double-digit times,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said during the Jan. 19 teleconference. “He has that ‘it’ factor to him; he was that swagger. He doesn’t look like a freshman -- he looks like a veteran guard who has been doing this for a long time.”

Trimble has already passed a number of tough tests this year, his latest coming against Trice, and he’ll have yet another coming up at Indiana. Hoosiers point guard Yogi Ferrell is one of the best point guards in the nation, and this year is averaging 14.9 points and five assists per game, both totals ranking among the Big Ten’s elite.

When asked about the matchup, though, Turgeon didn’t sound worried. In fact, the headman chose to focus more on how Trimble will approach the game, rather than hyping any potential Yogi-Melo showdown.

“[Trimble] is a very humble kid, he does the best he can each and every day, and some days are better than others,” Turgeon said. “He just continues to work hard.”

That said, Turgeon did acknowledge that Indiana as a whole presents plenty of problems with its overall guard play. Aside from Ferrell, the Hoosiers’ backcourt features Kevin Blackmon, who averaged 16.6 points and shoots 41.5 percent from 3-point range, and Robert Johnson, who drops 9.7 a night; shoots 40 percent from deep; and is second on the squad at 2.7 assists per game.

That trio, along with forward Troy Williams (13.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game) and paint presence Hanner Mosquera-Perea (7.4 points, five rebounds), form the bulwark of a Hoosiers’ squad that’s won three in a row and sits at 14-4 overall (4-1 Big Ten). IU is coming off an 80-74 win at Illinois, where UMD lost, and before that knocked off Penn State and No. 22 Ohio State in Bloomington, Ind.

“We’re facing a really good Indiana team on the road with a lot of confidence and some really, really, really good players,” Turgeon said. “Great guard play, playing with confidence. They have so many good guards…When you have great guards you have a chance, and they’ll be a tough test this week.”

Indiana might have shooters and scorers, but the Terps are holding foes to 61.4 points and 37.7 percent shooting this year. Maryland has out-rebounded opponents by an average of four per night, while the overall team length (Jake Layman, Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky, Jared Nickens), peskiness (Richaud Pack, Dez Wells, Melo Trimble) and pure grit (Jon Graham) has given foes fits.

“They have really good length, and they don’t take a lot of chances defensively,” Crean said. “Those are the types of things that make them really good [on that end].”

The Terps do have a couple question marks defensively, however. One, though, has risen to the challenge the last couple weeks, while the other is still trying to find himself.

“[Jared Nickens] has been an unbelievable pleasant surprise. I think where he’s progressed the most is defensively,” Turgeon said. “He’s doing a much better job not only guarding his own man, but being a great team defender, a great rebounder, and he’s gotten a lot tougher.”

But the same can’t really be said about Evan Smotrycz at this time. Smotrycz, who Turgeon said is still not 100 percent healthy, has looked a step or two slow defensively since his return.

During the MSU bout, there was one sequence where the senior forward stood straight up and let a Spartans’ drive take a big Euro-step right by him for an easy layup. Smotrycz failed to move his feet on the play, prompting Turgeon to yank him from the game.

“[Smotrycz] is nowhere near where he was before. He had a great summer and was in the best shape of his life. He was really playing at a high level the day he broke his foot. When you’re off six weeks, you’re out again a couple weeks -- it takes time,” Turgeon said. “But he really us defensively against Purdue, and offensively he helped us spread the floor and made some great decisions [against Michigan State].

“But I don’t think he’s close, and I don’t think he’ll be 100 percent all this year. But he’s trying to help us … and just getting a little bit better every day.”

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