Dez Wells' offensive diversity gives him and Terps the best chance to succeed

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — As the final seconds ticked away and Dez Wells took control at the top of the key Wednesday night, Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon expected his junior guard to drive.

So did Miami coach Jim Larranaga and the Hurricanes, who were trying force overtime after being down by 10 points with under two minutes to play at Comcast Center.

As most of the other Maryland players moved out of the lane to give Wells space, Miami's defense sagged, ready to take a charge if Wells tried to bully his way to the basket or block his shot if he got to the rim.

But to the surprise of both coaches and the other nine players on the court, Wells did something he rarely does — take and make a 3-point shot that helped the Terps escape with a 74-71 victory.

"I''ve taken that shot a million times, I just wanted to take the best shot for my team," Wells said Friday, after Maryland (12-9, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) practiced for Saturday's game at Virginia Tech (8-12, 1-7).

"If I would have missed it, people would have been saying that I was selfish and I should have passed the ball, gave it to a shooter. It was a high-risk, high-reward kind of shot."

Asked what making the first game-winning shot of his career — on a 3-pointer no less — does for his confidence, Wells said, "My confidence is always in my 3-point shot, but it does a great deal for me."

Though the shot selection was bold for a player who has barely made over a third of the 3-pointers he has taken in his college career, how Wells dominated the second half was something he had done before as a Terp.

The manner in which he did it — leading to him making seven straight shots and six straight free throws after a scoreless first half — was also something he had done before.

All but Wells' last shot were the result of powerful bursts to the basket — on which he looks like a linebacker sizing up a quarterback for a sack — or short and mid-range jumpers that have old school flair to them.

Getting Wells the ball in the mid-post area is something Turgeon wants to do as the season continues.

"We're trying to figure out more ways [to get Wells the ball in the mid-post]," Turgeon said Friday. "We've added a few things to get him there. We want to do it more. Dez can shoot it too.

"When hits a couple of threes — he hit one against Pittsburgh and then he hit one the other night — then he's got his mid-range game, he's got his drive game, he's got his post-up game ... he's hard to guard."

One of the reasons Wells had such a clear look at the basket in the final seconds Wednesday — compared to a similar shot he missed with two Connecticut defenders flying in his face in the season opener — is that the Hurricanes were playing Wells to drive.

"When he shot it, I thought, 'It has a chance to go in, but I'd rather have him out there than driving to the basket and getting the layup and the foul," Larranaga said. "That would have really been what he normally does."

Wells' range is something NBA scouts have often questioned about a player who has the size (6-feet-5, 215 pounds), strength and athletic ability to play as a shooting guard in the pros.

"Wells' game now is basically driving to the basket — and he's good at it," one scout, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, said Thursday. "It's hard to get into the 10-foot area. You've got to have a good first step or be able to handle to get into that range [in the NBA]. The reason you stop at 10 feet is that you can't jump over somebody or get a charge called."

Though the 3-point shot has made the mid-range shooter in the NBA nearly irrelevant, the scout said what could help Wells' NBA stock is gaining a reputation as a willing, physical defender and someone who can elevate to compensate for a lack of range.

Not that Wells can't become a better 3-point shooter.

"His [outside] shot is not broken, but he might think it is because he's reluctant to take outside shots," the scout said. "You can develop a 3-point shot."

How Wells fits with his current teammates is more crucial right now. Many who watch the Terps play — from scouts to coaches to analysts — believe that Maryland's offense should run through Wells.

Wells said after Wednesday's game that he hasn't taken many potential game-winners, going back to high school when he played with Washington Wizards star John Wall and former North Carolina State star C.J. Leslie.

"This is the first team I've ever been on where I've kind of been looked at as the main guy," Wells said. "It's all new to me, so I'm learning as I go."

Turgeon thinks other players on his team are capable of taking over, but he said Wednesday night's success was in part a result of Wells' teammates making sure to get him the ball.

"The thing is that we recognized that Dez was hot," Turgeon said. "So he got to the foul line [and] we ran some plays for him. Early in the year, guys might have said, 'He's hit a couple in a row, I'm going to go get mine.' We kept going to him, so that's what really important in the whole scheme of things."

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