COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The last time Dez Wells scored this many points was in November, and the last time Jon Graham scored anywhere near this many points, he played for Penn State.
It took those kind of efforts for Maryland to pull out a 64-58 Big Ten victory over Penn State Feb. 4 at the Xfinity Center in a back-and-forth tussle befitting the 17th-ranked Terrapins’ closest conference rival, geographically speaking. The Nittany Lions kept close on the scoreboard, too, on this night in a game that saw the lead change hands 13 times.
Finally, the Terrapin defense decided matters, forcing a couple of tough shots and locking the Lions off the boards, and even getting a 5-second call on an inbound when Penn State still had hope in the final seconds.
“Coming down to the end, we had to get stops and we had to rebound the ball, and we did that,” said Wells of Maryland holding the Nittany Lions to 38.6 percent (22-of-57) shooting.
Maryland (19-4, 7-3) had five days off to ponder that 80-56 loss at Ohio State, but the Terrapins got all they wanted from an improving Penn State (14-9, 2-8) team that has the Big Ten’s leading scorer in D.J. Newbill, who came in averaging 21.5 points. Wells drew most of the assignment on Newbill, and he and Richaud Pack hectored the high-scoring, 6-4 guard into a 6-for-19 night to get his 18 points, still below his average.
Wells also found time to score 23 points in one of his most efficient efforts on 8-of-10 shooting, and yank down seven rebounds, including a huge one near the end. It was Wells’ top scoring effort in the Big Ten and best since 27 in the second game of the year against Central Connecticut State.
“I’m feeling a lot closer to 100 percent now,” said Wells. “My wrist feels amazing and my body feels great. I haven’t felt this good since the beginning of the season. This break has helped us a lot and we’re ready to finish the conference schedule strong.”
Graham felt pretty good, too, notching a career high 16 points to go with six rebounds against his former teammates. The Terrapins’ play-hard poster child hit 6-of-7 shots from the field, was 4-of-7 at the line, including a bank shot that he pretended to then call, and had all the hustle plays for which he is already known.
“I’m just happy we won the game,” he said. “It was a really fun night but I get amped up for every game. You guys see me.”
Though he soft-sold his big game, Graham’s previous high scoring game was 10 against Northwestern in 2012, when he played for Penn State. His biggest game at Maryland had been eight points earlier this year, also against Central Connecticut State. Graham transferred to Maryland before the 2012-13 season.
“I was trying to talk to (Graham) before the game but he had his headphones on and was just ignoring me,” said Jake Layman, who chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds. “I knew he was locked in from that point.”
“He seemed calm,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon of Graham. “I’m sure he didn’t sleep much last night. He was fired up for most of the day and I’m just happy for him. It was a long day, I hate these late games.”
Turgeon thought the Terrapins all settled down a little better in the second half. “To me, it was just about getting the guys to relax and play hard while having fun. I feel we are a little bit uptight because of our record and ranking. We relaxed and played hard, and it was really good for us.”
Another key, and perhaps a changing of the guard or at least the guard’s style, was heralded by the career high eight assists for Melo Trimble, who again skillfully guided the Terps through tough waters late, the ball in his hands almost exclusively. He was 0-for-5 from the field but 4-of-5 at the line, and had two steals.
“At the start of the second half we did a lot to get Melo the ball,” said the coach. “And it was to score but every time Melo goes somewhere there are two guys. He made the right decisions and our big guys finished tonight or got fouled, which was good to see.”
After a see-saw half, the Terrapins took the lead for good at 4:40, when one of those big guys, Damonte Dodd hitting a free throw after he missed two but got another shot on a lane violation. The Terrapins went up 53-52, and extended the lead when Trimble made a beautiful feed over a defender to Layman for a layup at 2:58.
Wells had just reentered the game when Geno Thorpe drove his way and Wells blocked the shot, the Terps taking over. Trimble worked the shot clock down, looked in dire straits, but then found a wide open Dodd for a dunk to make it 57-52 at 2:15.
Brandon Taylor hit a long 3-pointer for Penn State, Layman on him tighter than skinny jeans.
It was a two-point game again but Layman fed Wells inside for a lay-up to make it 59-55 at 1:20, the Maryland offense flowing the best it had in weeks.
Taylor did it again, though, another long three to make it 59-58 with 1:02 left. Wells was fouled and hit both free throws, Terps up 61-58 with 39.3 seconds remaining.
“The last seven or eight minutes, offensively we executed at a high level and defensively, the last three or four minutes we were really good,” said Turgeon. “They made two really tough threes on us.”
Newbill got up a desperate driving shot under duress from Trimble, and Wells yanked down the rebound, and was fouled. He hit one-of-two but Newbill missed another tough shot and after a scramble that ran the clock all the way down to 7.7 seconds, Penn State got possession on a tie-ball.
Only the Nittany Lions couldn’t get the ball inbounds, the Maryland defense smothering them and clinching a 14th home victory (against one loss) as 14,195 Xfinity Center fans roared their approval.
Trimble added two free throws, the Xfinity Center version of the victory cigar, and Maryland gutted out what seemed like a must-win with two of the next three on the road and that big Indiana rematch here on Feb. 11.
“I think this game for us was a step in the right direction,” said Layman. “I don’t think it’s going to take one game for us to get back to our stride and start playing at a really high level again. It’s good to see us finally get back to being good defensively.”
Wells talked about his defense on Newbill. “You can’t shut out a great player like him. You’re never going to do that. It’s a team effort and we all stepped up. He was going to get his because the whole offense runs through him. My mindset was just make every shot tough for him.”
Leading by just one at the half, the Terrapins raced out to an 8-point lead in the second half’s first four minutes. Graham was a big reason, racking up seven points in a 10-3 run. Then when Wells knocked down a corner three on Trimble’s third assist of the second half, Maryland led 39-31 at 15:54.
But Newbill and the Nittany Lions weren’t going down that easy. The gutty guard hit a 3-pointer and then got two free throws to bring Penn State back within 39-36. In a mad, turnover-laden, end-to-end scramble, Trimble found Wells for a thunderous dunk – one of Wells’ best ever, but not his best, he said (that would be against Morgan State in his first college game) – and a three-point play to make it 42-36 at 14:19.
But Newbill hit another three and when Shep Garner scored inside, it was a one-point game again.
Graham got two free throws but Garner hit a short turnaround. Layman scored in the paint but Garner got two free throws. Then when Devin Foster scored in transition from Newbill, Penn State had regained the lead, 47-46 at 9:48.
Graham scored inside from Trimble to put Maryland back in front but Newbill’s three-point play at 7:56, saw the Lions roar back ahead, 50-49 at 7:56. Of that offensive flurry from Graham, the senior said, “It was the great play of Melo Trimble penetrating the defense and I was just the fortunate beneficiary of his great passes.”
The Terrapins had scored the last four points of a mostly lackluster first half to salvage a 29-28 advantage headed to the locker room. Wells’ drive at 6.1 seconds gave Maryland the lead. The previous possession, Layman scored on a nice reverse lay-in after a timeout as Maryland finally seemed to get a little better spacing in the half court and created something.
The Terrapins shot 42.9 percent but were horrid from deep, only 2-of-10 behind the arc in the first half. Penn State started hot but cooled to 41.4 percent shooting and the Lions were even worse from deep, 2-13 from 3-point range. The Terps won the hustle battle with a 20-14 rebounding edge, but the inability to connect consistently from the perimeter kept them from opening any kind of margin.
Wells carried Maryland much of the half with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and he also did a nice job limiting Newbill, who was just three of eight for six points.
In what has become a disturbing trend, the Nittany Lions hit six of their first nine shots before Maryland clamped down. The Lions connected on just six of their last 19.
There were nine lead changes and five ties in the first half.
Penn State had a modest 5-0 run to open a 17-13 lead at 10:08 when Donovan hit a 3-pointer. Trimble drew a foul on a cagey 3-point attempt as the shot clock expired, and then hit two of three at the line. When Wells drilled a three at 7:15, the Terps were back on top, 20-19.
The Nittany Lions had hit four of their first five shots but the Terrapins were 4-of-7, and the score was tied at 8-8, when Thorpe scored on a drive. Wells got off to a good start with four of Maryland’s first eight points and the Terps went ahead when Smotrycz came off the bench and hit a three.
Maryland out-rebounded Penn State 38-29 for the game and outshot them, hitting 44.2 percent though the Terps were terrible (3-of-15) from 3-point range. Penn State (6-of-22) was worse but 15 turnovers also slowed the Terps.
Dodd played key minutes late and finished with four points, three rebounds and a block. He and Graham both defended the high ball-screen better, and helped Maryland control the defensive glass.
Maryland returns to action Feb. 8 at Iowa.
Terps Push Past Penn State
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