CHICAGO — The Maryland men's basketball team knew seventh-seeded Indiana had a lot more to play for in Friday's Big Ten Conference tournament quarterfinal than the second-seeded Terps did. The Hoosiers, on the bubble for this year's NCAA tournament field, needed a win.
Only one problem: The No. 8 Terps are on their own mission, one with roots in last season's first-round exit in their last Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and subsequent exodus of five players after a disappointing 17-15 season.
Redemption won out at United Center, as Maryland rode senior guard Dez Wells' 22 points and six rebounds and freshman point guard Melo Trimble's 17 points to a 75-69 victory and a place in today's semifinals. With a win in their first Big Ten tournament game, the Terps will face third-seeded Michigan State about 3:25 p.m. Saturday.
"I think our mindset tonight was crushing someone's dreams," said junior forward Jake Layman (10 points), laying on a training table afterward.
The win was the eighth straight for Maryland (27-5) and 11th in as many games decided by six points or fewer.
"We're used to having to grind it out," Wells said. "That's kind of like a statement with a good team. … We're used to grinding it out and having to fight for every possession. This team is battle-tested."
Said Indiana coach Tom Crean: "Dez Wells is not only one of the elite in our league; he's one of the elite players in the country, and for a lot of reasons. He can score, he can pass, he can drive it, he can defend, he can get out in transition, he's tough and he makes every one of his teammates better. And that's a hard position to cover when they have as many shooters and somebody like Melo Trimble."
Junior point guard Yogi Ferrell led Indiana (20-10) with 18 points but missed 10 of 16 shots.
Freshman guard James Blackmon Jr., who along with Ferrell lit up the Terps in a 19-point home win in January, had his second straight tough night, shooting 2-for-12. After a hot start, sophomore guard Robert Johnson was 3-for-11. As a team, the Hoosiers shot 20 percent in the second half and missed 17 of 24 3-pointers overall.
And while they had 40 points by halftime, Maryland had 42, the first time it had reached the 40-point mark in the first half since a Jan. 17 win over Michigan State.
"I thought we played really smart defensively today," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "We ran guys off the [3-point] lines. In transition, we were really great at finding guys, close it, trying to make them drivers.
"We were really smart defensively around the rim, trying to make them score over us. They're hard to guard. I don't know if there's a team in the country that's as hard to guard as they are. It was a great performance by my guys."
While the play of Wells, Trimble, Layman (10 points, nine rebounds) and even freshman wing Jared Nickens (10 points, including a pair of huge second-half 3-pointers) was not a surprise, what senior forward Evan Smotrycz did might have been.
Struggling with injuries and confidence throughout his final year, Smotrycz gave the Terps eight points, four rebounds, two blocks and an assist in 22 minutes off the bench. He hit five of six free throws, including four straight as Maryland finished the game by hitting 11 of 12 overall in the last 2:10.
"Evan hurt his knee in the Wisconsin game and hasn't felt comfortable since then," Turgeon said. "He had his best practice of the year on Wednesday. It was good to see. He's making better decisions, he's not forcing things. I thought defensively, he was very good."
Sitting in an icetub after the game, Smotrycz said he's still bothered by nagging injuries to his knee and back. He missed a month this season with a broken foot, then played with a soft brace on his right thumb after suffering a hairline fracture.
"Just my body, I'm feeling good right now," said Smotrycz, who also hit his first 3-pointer in five games after having missed eight straight. "My body feels good, so I think it gives me confidence to move the way I want to move and do what I want to do."
With Maryland leading by seven points with a little over six minutes left, Trimble had what looked like a layup. Freshman forward Emmitt Holt came out of nowhere to block the shot, and Hoosiers went on a 5-0 run to cut the deficit to two, 62-60.
After the Terps built the lead back to 68-62 on a pair of free throws by Wells — who got a reprieve after an Indiana lane violation nullified a miss — Indiana cut it back to 68-66 when Ferrell and Johnson sandwiched four free throws around a missed one-and-one free throw by Layman with 49 seconds to play.
It was close as the Hoosiers got. Johnson misfired on a 3-pointer and Ferrell missed a pair of 3-pointers to help the Terps close the game out. The ending, and the result, was reminiscent of so many games Maryland has won in this seemingly charmed season.
"I think when it's close, we always think we're going to win, no matter what," Layman said.
Note: Freshman center Michal Cekovsky didn't play after coming down with what Turgeon called a "stomach bug" Thursday night. The 7-footer received intravenous fluids at a local hospital, and Turgeon said Cekovsky should be able to play Saturday.