Mark Turgeon had yet to see the real Dez Wells, the all-around player viewed as a man who could provide multiple elements to an inexperienced Maryland team upon receiving eligibility last week.
Wells was useful in the Terrapins’ first two games. He was on the floor plenty, figuring things out and contributing what he could.
Something wasn’t quite right, which was understandable after Wells’ expulsion from Xavier, his transfer to Maryland and his two-month odyssey for immediate eligibility.
It was also worth Turgeon investing time Friday afternoon to urge Wells to forget about external expectations.
“I don’t feel like people are putting it on me knowingly, but everybody’s excited that I’m here,” Wells said. “[He said] ‘Just don’t even worry about it. I’ll take all the pressure and you go out there and do what you do and play hard and just be a basketball player. That’s all you have to do.’”
Hours later, Wells was close enough to his stat-stuffing best to alleviate any concerns in Maryland’s 91-74 defeat of Long Island at Comcast Center.
There’s so much Wells can provide after averaging nearly 10 points and five rebounds at Xavier last season, and it was plenty evident Friday. An efficient scoring night (15 points on 11 shots) was only the beginning of his value in the rout.
He had five assists, complementing junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard’s nearly flawless night (13 assists). He blocked three shots. He had two steals.
And he rebounded, which no doubt pleased his mother (a former basketball player herself) back in Raleigh, N.C.
“She told me if I have anything less than five rebounds, I couldn’t come home for Christmas,” Wells joked.
This is precisely what Maryland needs from Wells. He’ll provide offense, some more nights than others, though it was unrealistic to peg him as a prolific scorer, especially so shortly after arriving in a new system.
But a jack-of-all-trades? That’s the guy Maryland pursued fervently, even if it was barely two months before the season started when he agreed to come to College Park and there were no guarantees he could play this year.
It’s also the guy Turgeon successfully tapped into Friday afternoon, lifting whatever lingering anxiety that might have remained.
“We have a good basketball team with good players, you don’t have to be ‘The Guy’ for us every night for us to be successful,” Turgeon said while recounting the conversation. “You just have to be Dez Wells. I think that’s what he did tonight. He got himself going early tonight, which really helped. Offensively, I thought he was really good.”
Just as Wells’ first two games —- when his shot wasn’t falling and the rebounds weren’t coming —- was hardly a sample size indicative of a problem, there are no guarantees Friday’s superb showing is destined for repeats throughout the season.
Maryland ran its offense well, especially in the second half. It scored 90 points for the first time under Turgeon. Its shooting percentage (56.5 percent) was its best in Turgeon’s two seasons. It sagaciously selected its 3-pointers, with Seth Allen hitting five on the way to a 19-point game.
Long Island (0-3), despite its recent NCAA tournament appearances, couldn’t match the overall speed, size and depth of the Terps despite some credible individual efforts. That, in turn, made it the perfect night for Wells and recalibrated outlook to settle in.
“For the first time in four or five months, I felt relaxed in my own skin,” Wells said. “It’s been really tough for me. Coach helped me a lot with that talk. He told me just to relax, you shouldn’t feel any pressure, just be who you are on the court and just let the game come to you and don’t feel like you have to save the world. He helped me out a lot.”
Maryland didn’t need Wells, or anyone, to save them Friday. The Terps are over .500, almost certainly to stay considering their level of talent and the nonconference schedule looming in the weeks to come.
They’ll require Wells later, though, or at least the version of himself that he so capably unleashed against Long Island.
“I knew it would take some time,” Wells said. “I feel like when it was time, it would come. I feel like tonight everything came a lot easier because I let the game come to me.”
—- Patrick Stevens