Like his coach, Dez Wells has a long basketball memory. His personal defeats remain with him like tiny scars.
The super-competitive Maryland junior swingman entered Tuesday’s game against North Carolina Central with the nagging memory of Eagles guard Jeremy Ingram scoring 30 or so points on him in a high school tournament in their home state of North Carolina.
Four years later, Wells used the recollection as motivation in helping hold Ingram — the nation’s third-leading scorer — to 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting in Maryland’s 70-56 victory before an announced 9,554 at Comcast Center.
“I never forget stuff like that,” Wells said.
Wells’ goal — to make Ingram work for every shot — was shared by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. In Maryland’s final nonconference game, on the last day of the calendar year, Turgeon finally seemed to coax from his team the sort of relentless defense that had often eluded it.
“We really defended, obviously,” Turgeon said. “I thought Dez and Nick [Faust] were really committed to guarding that kid.”
Wells (10 points) had plenty of help on both ends of the floor. Faust (City), who entered shooting 35 percent, came off the bench to lead Maryland with 19 points (5-for-11 shooting), matching his career high, and also guarded Ingram extensively.
Faust gave a fist pump to the crowd after converting his third and final 3-pointer to push Maryland’s lead to 68-45. He has been growing more accustomed to coming off the bench after starting the first eight games.
“I would say it was an adjustment,” Faust said.
Even in victories this season, Turgeon has often been left with a sour expression because of his team’s occasional defensive lapses. Coming into the game, Maryland had allowed opponents to convert 41.1 percent of field goals, the 11th-highest rate in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But the Terps (9-5) held the Eagles (7-4) to 32.7 percent shooting from the floor. Ingram, who entered averaging 24.6 points per game, likes to penetrate into the lane and get fouled. Against the Terps, he was often met by frontcourt defenders when he neared the basket.
“When a guy misses shots, you’ve got to give the other team credit, but I’ve also seen Jeremy make a lot of those shots too,” said North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton, a longtime family friend and mentor to Wells.
“We had dinner last night,” Wells said. “We talked when the ‘bigs’ were stretching for about 20 minutes (Tuesday) about anything and everything. I’m happy he’s in my life right now.”
Maryland’s defensive success came with a reconfigured starting lineup, its seventh of the season. After playing a season-high 20 minutes in the previous game, transfer Jonathan Graham (Calvert Hall) got his first Maryland start. Graham, a forward, had six points and three rebounds.
Turgeon said the return of Seth Allen (six points, four assists) has bolstered the team’s depth and taken pressure off other players. It was Allen’s second game back from a foot fracture, and Turgeon said the player is still about three weeks away from being fully healthy and in game condition.
The Terps shot just 37 percent in the first half, but they held the Eagles to 26.7 percent shooting and Ingram to six points. Maryland led by eight points at halftime before pulling away.
N.C. Central had beaten North Carolina State in overtime on Nov. 20 and lost by only 11 at undefeated and then-No. 11 Wichita State on Dec. 22.
Ingram shot 21 free throws in the N.C. State victory, making 19. He got to the line five times on Tuesday, making three.
The Terps, who have won their last two games after an upset loss to Boston University, begin their final ACC schedule in earnest with a home game against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
“I think defensively as a coach I feel more comfortable with our team,” Turgeon said. “I like [the team’s performance] a lot better today than I did 10 days ago.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun