LINCOLN, NEB. — Mark Turgeon's last trip to Nebraska ended in a wild on-court celebration at the Bob Devaney Sports Center six years ago, after Texas A&M erased an 18-point, second-half deficit and won on a 3-point shot at the buzzer. It helped the Aggies make the NCAA tournament.
There was no wild scene for Maryland on Sunday at the 2-year-old Pinnacle Bank Center, just another narrow win for Turgeon's No. 10 Terps that also came down to a 3-pointer — one that Cornhuskers forward Shavon Shields missed after Dez Wells provided the final margin in what became a 64-61 victory.
Wells, who hit a crucial 17-footer from the right wing with 8.8 seconds left and little time remaining on the 35-second shot clock, recorded his second straight double double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman point guard Melo Trimble led Maryland with 21 points and seven rebounds.
The Terps are 10-0 this season in games decided by six points or fewer. Maryland (26-5, 14-4), which has won more regular season games than any team in school history, won its seventh straight heading into their first Big Ten Conference tournament Friday in Chicago.
"We found out yesterday that we had a chance to set a record with 26 wins, and we really dialed in," Turgeon said. "I think because that number was sitting out there we stayed focused. We tried to get it done. Of course, we had the best player on the floor in Dez Wells. He was terrific once again."
Asked about the play by Wells coming out of a timeout with four seconds left on the shot clock, Turgeon said: "I knew Dez wasn't passing it. We had Melo coming off a screen, we had Richaud [Pack] in the corner, but I knew Dez was going to shoot it. They actually played pretty good defense on that play, but Dez made a big-time shot."
It capped off a stretch of games in which Wells has arguably been the best player in the league, following him scoring 10 points in the last 5 1/2 minutes Tuesday at Penn State and his best overall performance as a Terp when he had 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a win over No. 6 Wisconsin.
Wells said after the game that he considered driving for the basket despite the shot clock ticking down.
"I don't know, I just wanted to be a little more dramatic," he said with a smile.
As for Nebraska's final play, Turgeon acknowledged afterward he wanted his players to foul, despite twice not doing so earlier in the season and surviving games against Indiana at home when Yogi Ferrell missed two shots in the last six seconds — one a potential game-winning 3-pointer — and later at Penn State when D.J. Newbill missed a 3-pointer to force overtime.
"We were trying to foul, we weren't trying to foul for those other 27 fouls," Turgeon said a bit sarcastically. "I loved it. It took them a long time to get up the court, I thought we were going to foul around three seconds, we reached in, they didn't call it and it was like, 'Oh no.' And they missed it for us."
Turgeon said he was trying to foul because the Cornhuskers had missed so many free throws, particularly down the stretch. Nebraska (13-17, 5-13), which lost its eighth straight, missed 14 of 37 attempts from the foul line while the Terps made 21 of 25, including 9 of 10 by Trimble and 6 of 7 by Wells.
The Terps had seemingly taken control of the game midway through the second half, using a 10-0 run to erase a five-point deficit. Maryland had a chance to put the Cornhuskers away, but as has been the case recently, the Terps couldn't. A 59-53 lead with 4:11 left and a 61-56 lead with three minutes left nearly disappeared.
After Shields (26 points) made a three-point play with 41 seconds left to cut Maryland's lead to one, the overflow crowd of 15,856 did its best to distract the Terps. It seemed to work, as reserve forward Evan Smotrycz nearly turned it over before Turgeon called timeout with a little over 11 seconds left.
"He just drew up a play, like a last-second kind of play that we go through over in practice, and he just told me to make a play," Wells said. "I knew I had but four seconds, so that's about three dribbles max. I just got in a rhythm for my shot and was hoping for the best and it went in. I'll take it."
Wells said the down-to-the-wire victories are a confluence of being a good team in a tough conference and relying on young players such as Trimble and Michal Cekovsky, who returned to the lineup after missing the previous two game with a knee injury, and made his presence felt on the defensive end.
"It's never going to be perfect," Wells said. "We're never going to be playing against teams that we're going to blow out. It's not a team full of veterans. Everyone's still learning and we're still hungry and trying to get the best out of this year."
That the Terps, picked to finish 10th in the preseason, will go into the United Center as the second seed and with more regular wins that any team in Maryland team in history is something Turgeon, Wells and the rest of the players are proud of.
"It's history," Wells said of the 26th win. "Nobody can take that away from us. You can never say that we didn't do something special or do something that exceeds any other team that has been at Maryland. Even Juan [Dixon, now a special assistant to Turgeon] and them didn't have 26 regular-season wins."
Wells, who has a close relationship with Dixon, smiled.
"I guess that's one up we have on him," Wells said. "We got a lot more achievements to make before we can talk about him or compete with him with special things we've learned at school. It's great, but we've got to stay grounded and stay hungry."