Dez Wells could joke about the turnovers now. It was easier to digest the five miscues — and the good-natured, locker-room scolding he got from his coach — after the sophomore topped his career high in points for the second straight game as Maryland survived a quick and gritty George Mason team, 69-62, on Sunday in the BB&T Classic.
Wells scored 25 points as Maryland (6-1) overcame 19 turnovers to win its sixth straight game in front of an announced 10,256 fans at the Verizon Center.
It was just the sort of game Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had craved — a taut contest against an experienced team in a noisy NBA arena, the sort that often hosts NCAA tournament games.
“The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to today, but it’s going to help us,” Turgeon said. “It took us a really long time to get used to their quickness.”
Something seemed to click for Wells last week. The talented Maryland swingman had scored in double figures in only two games until posting a career-high 23 in a win against Northwestern last Tuesday night. He started quickly in that game and seemed to build momentum.
The Xavier transfer started even faster Sunday. Wells scored the team’s first eight points, then continued to bedevil the Patriots with drives to the hoop.
Wells, who converted 11 of 17 field goals Sunday, is now 20-for-28 in his past two games.
“I’m going to cool off at some point,” Wells said. “But at the end of the day, whatever my teammates need me to do I’m going to provide for them. They welcomed me with open arms when I first got here. I couldn’t have done any of this without these guys.”
Wells’ solid performances followed a memorably bad outing. “A week ago Saturday, against Georgia Southern, he was about as bad as he could be. He flipped a switch and got real aggressive,” Turgeon said.
But Wells had five turnovers Sunday — the second time in three games he has reached that total.
“I’m going to set a record for turnovers at Maryland. I have to calm down,” a relaxed Wells said after the game. “[Turgeon] came in the locker room and said, ‘God Dez, you’re going to set a record for turnovers, aren’t you?' I’ve only been here about two months with these guys and we have a lot of learning to do as far as chemistry-wise but we’re getting a lot better every day.”
George Mason (5-3), which trailed by as many as nine points in the first half, stayed close after that. The Patriots tied the game at 34 on a tip-in by center Erik Copes, then took a 37-34 lead on a 3-pointer by Anali Okoloji.
But Wells, who was effective slashing to the basket, helped the Terps regain and hold the lead. His scoring was particularly important because center Alex Len (12 points) had picked up his third foul and his minutes were limited during a portion of the second half.
A drive by George Mason’s Jonathan Arledge cut Maryland’s lead to 65-60 with 1:43 left.
Maryland’s Nick Faust (14 points) then missed two free throws but — with the Patriots forced to foul — the Terps converted enough from the line, including a free throw by Wells, to secure the win.
“Dez was huge for us tonight,” said Len, who also had nine rebounds and three blocks. “In the huddles he always talks to us, motivational stuff. He’s not a selfish player.”
The Patriots were led by Patrick Holloway and Sherrod Wright with 17 points each.
George Mason entered the game holding opponents to 56.3 points per game, best in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Terps looked to push the ball inside against George Mason’s defense, which effectively limited Maryland’s 3-point shooting.
The Terps shot 2-for-11 from behind the arc. They shot 23-of-39 (59 percent) from the foul line.
“Nineteen turnovers and 16 missed free throws kept the game close [but] I thought our defense was outstanding,” Turgeon said.
The Terps held the Patriots to 31 percent shooting. “If we ever get ourselves together offensively, we’ve got a chance to have a pretty good team,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said.
Note: Maryland assistant coach Dalonte Hill had seven blood clots in legs and missed Sunday’s game. Turgeon said Hill is expected to return to work next week.