Maryland had just encountered its first bit of adversity of the young basketball season — its second straight conference defeat — and Dez Wells looked crestfallen.
The swingman wore a faraway stare as he talked in a monotone to the media about Maryland's 54-47 loss to Miami on Sunday night, about his two charging fouls, and about needing to "look in the mirror" to see if there is more he can do for the team.
"We just can't make a freaking shot," a still-frustrated Wells said Tuesday as the Terps (13-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared to host No. 14 North Carolina State (14-2, 3-0 ACC) at Comcast Center, which is already sold out for the game. "We cannot make a shot at all. We're playing really good defense [but] it's a lid on the cylinder."
Wells, a sophomore in his first year with the Terps, is already the team's acknowledged leader. Nobody agonizes more over defeats than Wells, who scored 18 points in Sunday's 54-47 defeat but couldn't forgive himself for three turnovers.
"Hates to lose," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of Wells. "He left a lot out there on the floor" against the Hurricanes.
Wells has become a leader by the force of his personality. He is also the best player on the team at creating shots, particularly slashing to the basket in transition.
Wells' best games so far have come on the road, where the Terps were 1-8 last season. He scored 23 points at Northwestern and 18 against the Hurricanes on 7-for-11 shooting. He scored a season-high 25 points at a neutral site — Washington's Verizon Center — in a win over George Mason.
Wells has emerged partly by default. Maryland has only two players — senior James Padgett and junior Pe'Shon Howard — in the regular rotation who have been in the program two years or more.
"He talks more than anybody," Turgeon said. "He especially talks to the younger kids a lot. But he has to be because James is quiet and Pe'Shon just hasn't done it. So he has to do it. He probably didn't expect to do it when he signed up here."
Guard Logan Aronhalt, a transfer from Albany, said Wells tells the younger players "when they're out of line. I think the biggest thing is trying to get them to understand how hard they have to work to be successful, and how difficult it is to win night in and night out. They don't understand that coming from high school."
Wells is naturally outspoken. Even as a Xavier freshman last season, he said he wasn't shy. Among the team's top players was guard Tu Holloway. But Holloway "led more by example than being a vocal person," Wells said.
Wells, who at 6 feet 5 can play guard or small forward, was dismissed by Xavier after his freshman season after a sexual-assault allegation that a prosecutor said was unproven.
Wells transferred to Maryland, which he calls his "home away from home." He said he is grateful at how Maryland embraced him and wants to repay the school through his play.
His real home is Raleigh, N.C. Among the schools he considered transferring to were N.C. State, located in Raleigh. He said he decided that "I didn't want to be that close to home. That's like five minutes from my house — too many distractions."
"I kept texting Dez every day telling him this is the school for him," Faust said. Now that he's here, Faust said that "Dez being outspoken helps us a lot. He gives us that voice."
The N.C. State game shapes up as a big one for the Terps. It will be Maryland's first opportunity against a ranked team at Comcast Center. Maryland plans to debut new, Under Armour-created "Pride" uniforms.
"You really get up a lot more for this game than a Miami game," Wells said. "I mean Miami is a great team — they should be ranked, too. Naturally you get up a lot more for that [N.C. State] game, especially me because that's my hometown school. [I'm] playing against a lot of my friends I grew up with."
Notes: Faust has continued to practice at point guard and could play the position Wednesday night. Turgeon said he wants to allow freshman guard Seth Allen to play off the ball — rather than at the point — to create more scoring opportunities. Turgeon said Howard, who had been the regular point guard, has been "pouting." Howard is 0-for-13 from the floor over the past three games. "My message since the last game is, 'Quit feeling sorry for yourself because no one else is,'" Turgeon said of Howard.
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