Dez Wells

Melo Trimble, Dez Wells (AP Photo)

Dez Wells, Melo Trimble lead No. 14 Maryland to upset of No. 5 Wisconsin

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Melo Trimble, Dez Wells (AP Photo)

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — Back on January 17th, back when Maryland’s first run through the Big Ten conference schedule was still in the beginning stages, the Terps were in the process of making what appeared to be a definitive statement as to who Wisconsin’s biggest challenger for Big Ten supremacy would be.

On that day Mark Turgeon’s club blew out Michigan State in the Xfinity Center, a 75-59 win that completed a sweep of the Spartans and put Maryland into sole possession of first place in the league standings. But over the course of the past month, that win had begun to feel like the high point of the Maryland season. There were blowout losses at Indiana, at Ohio State, at Iowa. There were a series of closer-than-they-should-be wins over league bottom-feeders at home, including a buzzer-beating win over Northwestern in which the Terps capitalized on one of many Wildcat collapses this season.

There were questions mounting. If Maryland is truly a top 15 team, why aren’t they beating the teams they should beat by more? Why can’t they blow people out? The eye test may not factor into NCAA tournament selection, but try explaining that to a rabid fan base after getting blown out in three straight road games.

That brings us to Tuesday night, No. 14 Maryland’s date with No. 5 Wisconsin, a chance to not only keep the dream of a Big Ten regular season alive but an opportunity to legitimize that gaudy, 22-5 record.

“I told my team pregame,” senior guard Dez Wells told reporters after the game, “I said, ‘just follow my lead.'”

And that they did. Wells finished with 26 points, seven boards and four assists to lead Maryland to a season-defining, 59-53 win.

Wells was the best player on the floor Tuesday night, a powerful statement considering that National Player of the Year frontrunner Frank Kaminsky plays for the Badgers. The key to the game was always going to be the matchup between Wells and whichever Wisconsin forward guarded him, and Wells completely dominated that battle from the tip. He scored 14 of his 26 points in the first 20 minutes, continually beating the slower Nigel Hayes, a 6-foot-7 power forward, off the dribble.

He was the bulldog, the leader that every coach expects their senior star to be.

“It’s a great feeling when you see your senior leader go out there and say, ‘hey coach, we got this,'” Mark Turgeon said after the game. “That’s what you expect out of a guy that grows with the program.”

“Dez is special. I’ve been saying that. He’ll make somebody’s roster because of the way he competes.”

While Dez will get the headlines on Wednesday morning, it was freshman point guard Melo Trimble that made the difference down the stretch. He finished with 16 points, including a pair of critical buckets and two free throws in the final minutes. His biggest basket came with 33 seconds left in the game. Wisconsin had cut Maryland’s lead to three, but Trimble was able to beat Josh Gasser — a terrific defender — off the dribble and score, putting the Terps up 57-52 and all but starting the Badger busses.

“I don’t know how many more times I can brag about Melo,” Turgeon said of his star. “Melo’s Melo. He does what he does.”

The Badgers got off to a slow start on Tuesday, shooting 29.6 percent from the floor and 1-for-11 from three while digging themselves a 31-20 halftime deficit. Some of those threes were forced, but a more than half of those that they missed were wide open looks. After the game, Bo Ryan and the Badger players attributed those misses to quick shots, firing up jumpers without playing inside-out. That may have played a role, just like the raucous student section and the unfriendly confines of a new road venue may have played a role as well.

The Badgers got eight straight points from Frank Kaminsky early in the second half to climb back into the game, and as the Terps started sending waves of help into the post, the threes began to fall. Wisconsin tied the game at 47, but a tough traveling call went against the Badgers, and Maryland took advantage. Wells twice got into the lane and drew a foul, and after a free throw from Kaminsky, blew past Hayes again, this time dunking on Wisconsin’s entire front court.

That made it 53-48 with four minutes left, and Wisconsin would not have possession with a chance to tie the rest of the game.

The win was a critical one for the Terps, as it not only keeps them alive in the Big Ten title race — they’re now two games back of Wisconsin with three to play — but it’s another quality win to add to their tournament profile. For a team projected to fall in that No. 3-No. 5 seed range, beating one of the nation’s best teams can really make a difference.

There’s more to it than just the numbers, however.

“Today was big,” Turgeon explained, doing his best journalist impression, “because, ‘Well, they’ve only beat Northwestern by two, they’re only beating Nebraska by four, they’re only beating Penn State by six. How good are these guys?’ Well, we are what we are. We figure out a way to win. We compete when we have to. I’ll take close wins when we win.”

“You can win as many close games as you want to, but because of somebody’s record, they expect you to blow them out,” Wells added. “But there’s good players on those teams, and just because somebody else blows them out doesn’t mean that we’re going to.”

“You’ve got to keep perspective and know that we’re going to play our game and execute the way we know how to and trust that everything is going to come out the way we want it to if we do those things.”

Maryland’s Dez Wells puts down a big dunk against Wisconsin

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Maryland guard Dez Wells has been aggressively attacking the basket all night and he threw down a powerful dunk against Wisconsin on Tuesday night.

The dunk came late in the second half with around four minutes left.

Maryland’s Dez Wells takes flight, dunks on Penn State defender (VIDEO)

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In the second half of No. 17 Maryland’s home game against Penn State Wednesday night, senior guard Dez Wells had the opportunity to finish at the rim with Donovon Jack being the lone defender in his way. Wells made the most of this drive to the basket, dunking on Jack with the Penn State forward also being called for the foul.

Video credit: Big Ten Network

Dez Wells’ game-winner caps wild sequence in No. 13 Maryland’s win over Northwestern (VIDEO)

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After suffering their second conference loss at No. 23 Indiana earlier this week, No. 13 Maryland looked to rebound with a win over Northwestern. That proved to be much easier said than done, with Chris Collins’ Wildcats shooting very well in their first-ever game at the xFinity Center in College Park. Leading the way for Northwestern was freshman point guard Bryant McIntosh, who shot 10-for-14 from the field and scored 21 points while also dishing out four assists.

Northwestern led by as much as 14 in the first half, but when it comes to closing out big wins the Wildcats have been unable to do so this season. And that’s how things played out Sunday night, with Maryland’s Dez Wells capping a wild final minute with a put-back with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Terrapins the 68-67 victory.

After two Melo Trimble free throws with 19.6 seconds remaining gave Maryland a one-point lead, Tre Demps answered with a jumper from the left elbow to give the Wildcats a 67-66 lead with 9.3 seconds to go. That proved to be too much time for Maryland, as in one motion Wells rebounded Trimble’s missed three-pointer and banked in the follow.

Since beating Rutgers in their conference opener Northwestern’s dropped six straight, with four of the losses being by five points or less (the last three by a total of five points) and a fifth coming in overtime at Michigan State.

Video credit: Big Ten Network

No. 12 Maryland outlasts Michigan State in their first Big Ten game

Melo Trimble (Getty Images)
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Dez Wells and Melo Trimble combined to shoot 7-for-27 from the floor, but they combined to hit some critical free throws — and, in Dez Wells’ case, the most important three of the game — as No. 12 Maryland beat Michigan State in the Breslin Center in double-overtime, 68-66.

In a weird finish to regulation, Michigan State cost themselves a chance to ice the game by calling a timeout with 12 seconds left, erasing a would-be breakaway layup for Bryn Forbes that would have put them up by four. After Matt Costello went 1-for-2 from the free throw line, Wells — who finished with 16 points, seven boards and five steals — hit a leaning three over a pair of defenders with just 2.2 seconds left in regulation.

The Spartans again took the lead in the first overtime, but Wells made a pair of free throws in the final minute that tied the game. Forbes missed a three at the buzzer that would have won the game.

In the second overtime, Melo Trimble was able to consistently get to the free throw line, helping the Terps slowly build a five-point lead that the Spartans were unable to overcome.

The Big Ten is the toughest conference in America to figure out, but the Terps look like they are the second-best team in the league. Not only are they now ranked 12th in the country, but they own wins over Iowa State and at Oklahoma State and Michigan State. They are now 13-1 on the season, the only loss coming to No. 3 Virginia in a game that Wells did not play in.

The difference for Maryland has been addition by subtraction. Maryland lost five players to transfer this offseason, but not all of that was by mistake. Chemistry is an incredibly important part of a basketball team, and the Terps have it this season.

They also have Trimble, who is the first true point guard that Turgeon has had in his tenure at Maryland. Trimble is more of a scorer than a Fred Van Vleet or Tyler Ennis, but he still is a guy that can get Maryland into an offense and create a shot — or a pair of free throws — at the end of a clock.

All told, the Terps look like a team that will win quite a few games to start their time in the Big Ten.

Maryland leading scorer Dez Wells will play on Saturday against Oakland

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Maryland, which has jumped to No. 15 in the nation, was expected to get its leading scorer back in practice on Friday, five days before the Terrapins begin Big Ten play.

UPDATE (7:30 p.m.): Wells will play on Saturday against Oakland.

Wells, who was averaging 16.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, has been sidelined with a broken bone in his right wrist since Nov. 28.

In seven games without Wells, the Terrapins are 6-1 with the lone loss to then-No. 7 Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. In Wells’ absence, junior wing Jake Layman is averaging 17.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week along with Indiana wing Troy Williams on Monday.

Earlier this month, the Terrapins reinserted Evan Smotrycz into the lineup after missing eight of first 10 games.

After Saturday’s non-conference matchup with Oakland, Maryland opens its first season of Big Ten play on Tuesday at Michigan State.