EAST LANSING, MICH. — Maryland waited more than two years to play its first Big Ten men's basketball game, enduring a disappointing season a year ago and a tumultuous offseason.
The Terps then were forced to play two overtimes here Tuesday at Breslin Center against one of the league's powerhouse programs.
In the end, it was worth the wait.
After senior guard Dez Wells sent the game into overtime with a 3-point shot with three seconds left in regulation to erase a late five-point deficit, after the Terps fell behind by four points with less than two minutes to go in the first overtime, Wells and freshman point guard Melo Trimble led Maryland to an exhausting and exhilarating 68-66 victory.
Trimble scored a team-high 17 points, all coming after halftime. He overcame a 2-for-13 shooting performance (1 of 8 on 3-pointers) by hitting 12 of 14 free throws, including six in the second overtime. Wells finished with 16 points, including a rim-shaking dunk off a steal in the second overtime.
"It was great for our team, it was great for me mentally, it was great for Maryland basketball in general," Wells said after playing 40 of the 50 minutes in only his second game back after suffering a fractured right wrist. "I know everybody felt that win. It was a grind."
Said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon: "That's a great win for us, I don't know how we did it, honestly."
The Terps did it at the free-throw line, making 26 of 32 in the second half and the two overtimes after not going to the line at all in a first half that saw Maryland leave for its locker room with a 17-14 lead. Even more impressively, the Terps did it on the boards, outrebounding the Big Ten's leaders, 52-36.
"That's a very good team, we didn't play very good," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I don't think any of my teams have ever been outrebounded, 52-36, I'm not sure in the history of — me. Our guards are not good enough right now, they're not strong enough. To play 40 minutes and not get a rebound."
Izzo also was unhappy that Maryland shot 32 free throws, though Michigan State (9-5 overall, 0-1 in the Big Ten) hurt itself by making just 19 of 28. Izzo implied that the Terps were flopping, particularly Trimble, on a few plays, but conceded, "they just drove it down our throats, they just drove by guys."
Said Turgeon: "I just think that's what we talked about at halftime because we couldn't make a jump shot. We had to score somehow. We had to spread it out. We actually ran some things we hadn't practiced because they were doing such a good job on the ball-screen defense. We tried to drive it. Melo's good at drawing fouls."
Led by Trimble, who leads the Big Ten in free-throw shooting, it helped the Terps overcome their worst shooting performance of the season. Maryland hit 19 of 57 overall, and just 4 of 22 from 3-point range. Still, Turgeon told his team late in regulation that it would hit three 3-pointers after making just one of its first 18.
"I told them, I don't know who's going to do it … but we're going to win this game," said Turgeon, whose own frustration with the way the game was being called led to his first technical foul of the season that contributed to the five-point deficit in the first overtime.
As they have all season, the Terps listened.
Senior forward Evan Smotrycz (nine points, eight rebounds) hit a big 3-pointer shortly before fouling out in regulation to cut Michigan State's lead to 56-54. Then came Wells' shot from the left wing in the waning seconds after the play Turgeon called had broken down. And finally, Trimble hit a 3-pointer in overtime.
It was the sixth straight victory for the Terps, and put them in great position to continue their turnaround season when they host Minnesota on Saturday at Xfinity Center. Though it didn't come close to erasing the memory of two painful NCAA tournament defeats to the Spartans, it certainly created another more positive one.
Maryland (13-1, 1-0) matched its best start since Turgeon took over, though the record two years ago was bloated by wins over teams outside the top 100 in RPI and an early Atlantic Coast Conference victory over bottom-feeder Virginia Tech. This year's record includes impressive wins away from College Park over Oklahoma State, Iowa State (in Kansas City, Mo.) and now over the Spartans, who were led by senior guard Travis Trice's game-high 26 points.
Asked if this was the biggest win this season for Maryland, Trimble said it was because of the setting and historical significance.
It's not going to change.
"Every game is going to be a big win for us now because we're ranked high now," Trimble said. "And we can't take any team lightly because they're all going to come at us with their best game."
NOTE: Sophomore center Damonte Dodd was incorrectly disqualified from the game when he was whistled for a foul with 2:07 to go in the first overtime. It was later discovered that Dodd had only four fouls. Turgeon declined to comment about it after being informed after the game.