COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- With just under 10 minutes to go and Maryland leading Jacksonville State 65-49 at the Xfinity Center Dec. 12, Terps’ redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley came off a back screen, took a pass near the left elbow, and fired an entry pass into Michal Cekovsky. The big man proceeded to throw down a dunk, but it was Wiley’s feed that spurred questions after the game.
“Two years ago I probably would have shot that ball myself or passed it back up,” laughed Wiley, who finished with a season-high tying 13 points, matching his effort against Stony Brook. “That pass really got me going. I started to see openings on the floor.”
Head coach Mark Turgeon readily agreed. Without prompting, Turgeon mentioned that pass during his postgame press conference.
“[Wiley] threw it on a rope to Ceko,” Turgeon said. “That kind of got him going because it was a positive play, then he hit two 3s in a row after that. He just needed some positive things to happen for him.”
Well, it wasn’t two 3s, but Wiley did knock down one triple 30 seconds later. He proceeded to score seven more points the rest of the way, canning two free throws; a tough layup; and another trey.
The layup didn’t go unnoticed either, as it also represented a break from form. Even before Wiley tore his meniscus last summer, forcing him to redshirt the 2015-16 campaign, he was a somewhat reluctant driver, preferring to settle for deep jumpers rather than challenge the trees inside.
“My coaches and the staff always tell me get a layup first, or get yourself going by getting a layup,” Wiley said. “Seeing me make a layup gives me more confidence in that situation.”
Add in a 3-for-3 performance from beyond the arc, Wiley re-finding his stroke for the first time since the Stony Brook game; two assists; two boards; and a steal, and it was the Upper Marlboro, Md., native’s best all-around performance this season.
Turgeon has said time and again it was going to take Wiley time to revert to freshman form, but perhaps this is a step in the right direction.
Postgame, Wiley dubbed himself “100 percent” healthy, but acknowledged his game isn’t quite where he wants it to be yet.
“Just the flow of the game and just getting used to being back playing, and the speed of the game, I think it’s coming back for me slowly but surely,” Wiley said. “It’s a process.”
Initially, Dec. 13 looked like another inauspicious outing for Wiley. During the first 20 minutes, he did hit a 3, but he committed a foul, turned it over twice, and wasn’t exactly playing lockdown defense.
That first half mirrored some of his previous games, when Wiley went 0-for-4 from the field against Georgetown; had two turnovers and took just one shot against Oklahoma State; didn’t score in back-to-back games against Richmond and Kansas State; and went 2-for-7 against Howard and followed it up with an 0-for-3 against St. Peter’s.
For the season, Wiley is shooting 32.6 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3, numbers boosted from his Jacksonville State performance.
“It’s been hard for him to find a rhythm,” Turgeon said. “Dion’s been working, he’s been coming early, staying late, doing extra sprints, doing extra running… He wants it. … What he found late [Dec. 12], I’m hoping is going to carry over for us.”
Wiley’s defense has been a point of contention for Turgeon, but the shooting guard did look quicker in the second half, while he came up with a first-half steal. Cekovsky, the recipient of that “rope” pass, took notice.
“[Wiley] was playing really good in the second half. He was impressive with his defense and making shots,” Cekovsky said. “He’s got a big body, he can guard bigger players and he’s a strong guy. He can make hustle plays.”
The team leader, Melo Trimble, concurred. Like Turgeon, Trimble didn’t need prompting to broach how important Wiley’s performance was after the game.
“He really gave us a spark, hitting his jump shot and getting to the basket,” Trimble said. “I was happy to see that, we really haven’t seen that from Dion this year. Hopefully going forward he’s going to really start to play and play well.”