Call me an optimist, but it’s pretty difficult to be upset with that win over Boston College last night. The Eagles may be 3-7 right now, but that team wanted to beat Maryland badly after blundering the 5th toughest schedule in the nation so far. A road conference win is a road conference win, and it’s hard to argue that Maryland didn’t take a step in the right direction on this one. Figuring out how to close games out is something that certain teams have to learn how to do, and Maryland learned that if you want to close a game out, you rely on Dez Wells.
Wells has that innate ability most other players don’t have where he can destroy a team by himself if need be. Maryland needed the easy buckets Wells provided in transition because of how unstoppable Hanlan was with these new hand checking rules and how little post presence they had to score easy points, and they got it. No, Wells is not going to have a career high every night and no, he will not close out every game for Maryland every time. But your best option most of the time is your best player, and that’s Dez Wells. You get the feeling that had he been out there against George Washington with the ball in his hands instead of Nick Faust and Roddy Peters, the outcome may well have been different.
Wells was fitting into the offense most of the game; there were numerous times I saw him settle for jumpers that, while he may have improved a bit on, clearly is not his game. Yet the ability to change from passive to aggressive (before an opposing coach can realize what’s happening to his team and make adjustments) and take over a game, that’s a rare talent. I’ve seen a fair amount of basketball in my day, and that mentality (and the ability to do it effectively) is what makes Wells the Terps not-so-secret weapon. He’s the guy that opposing coaches game plan for. They know Jake and Smotrycz can shoot; they know Faust can heat up in stretches; they hope Dez Wells won’t turn into Superman and eviscerate their team.
And this isn’t just Boston College; this is every single team in the country. You literally can not game plan for the Dez Wells that showed up against Boston College. Here’s Coach K after Dez dropped 30 against his Duke squad in the ACC tournament last year:
A lot of times in tournaments, one player elevates his game. He’s had a good year, and he’s a really good player. But in these two games, he’s elevated himself to really a high level and you can bring everybody with you when you start playing with a guy who’s doing that.
If any other player on the roster can do that, I have not seen him. Wells heightens his game when the time calls for it, and in this case it was when Maryland got down by four after Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon hit consecutive baskets. From that point on, Wells simply made it his mission to push the team to victory. Having a guy like Wells on the team is like having a Greivis Vasquez or a Terrell Stoglin; they will undoubtedly make blunders and try to do too much, but you live with the good and the bad because their best is better than most player’s best in the country, and it makes your team lethal. Wells going to the hole in transition is unstoppable, we saw that today. This game could have fallen out of their hands, but it didn’t because the team did just enough to stay in it.
Make no mistake about the “team” part, because Jake Layman and Nick Faust also did a great job at helping out down the stretch. Layman scored eight of his thirteen points in the second half and came up with a block towards the end of the game, and Faust added in a big steal plus a pair of jimmy’s. The two may not have had their premier roles, but we saw much better decision making out of Nick Faust, and Layman finally starting to show a little more consistency with his shooting while also not always settling for jumpers.
Faust had the unenviable task of guarding one of the brightest players in the ACC in Olivier Hanlan. When you look at his final stat line, 26 points and 8 assists, you would assume he had it easy, but Hanlan also had four turnovers and was 5-0f-14 from the floor. He’s probably a top five player at getting to the line, and with these hand check rules really dominating play early in this college season, you have to accept that guys with a great first step like his are going to score at the foul line. Still, Faust did a pretty decent job of denying him the initial penetration. At least, as good as you can expect most defenders to do against Hanlan.
And it’s hard to forget about Peters. Asking a freshman guard to lead his team to victory in his first ACC start, on the road no less, is not easy. Yet Peters managed it convincingly enough that he earned himself another start. His 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with three assists in 26 minutes of play was unquestionably his best performance of the year. Peters did have three turnovers, but Mark Turgeon even said before the game, a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is what you need to be alright, and Maryland got that from him. The team only turned it over 11 times (a rarity for this squad) with Peters largely at the helm. Boston College certainly had a very poor defensive outing, but credit the team for moving the offense no matter what. That starts with Peters.
His biggest impact, though, was letting Dez be Dez on the court. By now we’re all well aware of how effective Wells can be with the ball on the wing, and we saw that today. Peters running the point ensured that Dez didn’t have to worry about getting everyone involved or initiating the offense, and the effect was a career high game. That’s the Wells everyone was expecting heading into the year, and while I don’t anticipate him to average those numbers from here on out, I do think he’s going to become the lead man for this team now that he can play naturally.
That he could be the established 1A option is great for this team in so many ways, but mostly because it gives the team definition. It allows for players to begin to understand their roles within the team once again, and hopefully play like a much more cohesive unit from this point on. Down the stretch, Wells gets most of the shots and can drive the offense. Nick Faust can assume the third or fourth fiddle role, Layman and Smotrycz can be the open shooters that will thrive without having to create their own shots so often. Wells offensive rating was a staggering 141.7 tonight, and his free throw rate was sky high at 61.1. His aggressiveness opens up the floor for the rest of the team, which managed 1.33 points per possession tonight. Their shooting (55% overall) was so successful because of Wells.
I could harp on and on about how poorly Maryland’s big men played tonight (they couldn’t stop ball for the life of them). I could complain about Nick Faust’s seven three pointers. I could be upset that Mitchell only played 17 minutes despite being the best look in the post on offense. But I cannot complain about the Terps being 1-0 in the ACC and actually putting together 40 minutes of basketball while looking like a team that ran an offense correctly and with purpose.
The team admittedly looked a little disjointed earlier in the season with Wells at the point, and now that he doesn’t have to do that, Dez can go back to being Dez. With a few more easy games left before heading into the meat and potatoes portion of the conference schedule, Maryland should be very pleased with the early returns.