COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had been waiting four years for a meaningful win with national significance. Dez Wells had been waiting three years for a signature performance that fans will talk about long after he leaves college.
Together, they and the No. 14 Terps found both Tuesday night.
Before an announced sellout of 17,950 — with the students coming earlier and then storming the court afterward — Maryland shocked No. 5 Wisconsin, 59-53, at Xfinity Center, behind what was the best all-around performance of Wells' career.
Wells scored 26 points, to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 31 tense minutes, while freshman guard Melo Trimble added 16 points to help Maryland (23-5 overall, 11-4 in the Big Ten) pull off one of the biggest upsets during Turgeon's tenure.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Terps and more impressive than any they had since upsetting No. 13 Iowa State in November and beating both Oklahoma State and Michigan State (in their Big Ten debut) on the road in December.
While Wisconsin (25-3, 13-2) still will likely clinch the Big Ten regular-season title, the Badgers couldn't do it on Maryland's home court. Senior center Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin with 18 points and eight rebounds, and junior forward Sam Dekker added 14 points and nine rebounds.
"We had a lot of guys play well. Dez Wells was terrific, he was not going to let us lose," Turgeon said. "He was great defensively, he was great rebounding, he was great scoring. … Our guys were really determined tonight, starting with Dez Wells."
Aside from Wells and Trimble, the biggest contribution might have come from little-used freshman center Michal Cekovsky. After playing a total of 14 minutes the past three games, the 7-footer from Slovakia equaled that in the first half and helped the Terps to a 31-20 lead.
Cekovsky wound up playing 24 minutes and finished with six rebounds, four points (including a nice baseline dunk in the first half) and did a good job keeping Kaminsky in check during the first half. He also had a blocked shot.
"I knew this night was coming," Turgeon said of Cekovsky. "I didn't tell him it was coming, because I think he would have been worried about it. We've continued to work with him. He took on a challenge."
So did Wells, who was one of four seniors Turgeon brought together after last week's narrow win over Nebraska at home to ask them to lead their young teammates into the biggest game of the season. Mostly it was Wells who did the leading.
After Maryland watched as Wisconsin tied the score at 49 with a little less than seven minutes left and had a chance to take the lead, Wells took over. Twice he was fouled going to the basket, knocking down all four free throws to push Maryland up four.
Wells then threw down a vicious double-pump baseline dunk to put the Terps ahead, 53-48, with a little more than four minutes remaining. Starting out of the left wing, Wells drove past the 6-foot-9 Dekker and then jumped over 6-8 forward Nigel Hayes.
Speaking of the dunk, Wells said: "They kind of opened up a little for me. I saw someone [Hayes] come over and try to take a charge, and I said, 'That's his problem.' I just wanted to finish the play. I'm glad I finished it the way I did."
Wells' dunk didn't quite finish off the Badgers.
Trimble's next two shots did.
After Hayes hit a pair of free throws to cut Maryland's lead back to three with 3:49 to play, Trimble made a twisting, banked layup over the 7-foot Kaminsky to push the lead back to five. A steal by senior forward Evan Smotrycz then led to Trimble driving for another layup.
Trimble was fouled by Josh Gasser on the play with 32 seconds left, and though he missed a couple of late free throws, the damage had been done and the celebration began, first with the players and then with the fans.
"It started with our student section, our student section was great tonight," Turgeon said. "They gave us great energy. They've been camping out, we fed off that, it was a great win for us. It was the best defensively we played in a while."
Though Dekker said he was disappointed to see his team's 10-game winning streak end, he said: "We just have to turn the page. The sun is going to come up tomorrow and we are going to be ready to go and get after it."
Dekker was very complimentary of the Maryland crowd.
"It's great here," he said. "I can't say enough about how great their fans are. This was probably one of the best environments I've played at in awhile. It was a great pleasure playing here."
It was even more fun for Maryland. The Terps, who had struggled in several recent games to lock down opposing shooters, held one of the nation's top 20 shooting teams to 38.5 percent, including six of 22 on 3-pointers.
Aside from Kaminsky (7 of 14) and Dekker (6 of 12) the rest of the Badgers were 7 of 26.
After playing down to the competition in recent weeks at home — narrow wins over Northwestern, Penn State and, most recently, Nebraska — the Terps seemed to play up to their opponent for the entire night.
And, in the end, Maryland played even better than the Badgers.
Given that the Terps are headed to their first NCAA tournament appearance under Turgeon and the first in five years, Tuesday's win carried the most significance when it comes to postseason seeding. It could push Maryland into the Top 10 and a No. 3 seed.
"Today was big because [the critics were saying] 'They only beat Northwestern by two, only beaten Nebraska by five, only beaten Penn State by six, how good are these guys?" Turgeon said. "We are what we are. We figure out a way to win.We compete when we have to.
"I'll take close wins as long as long as we keep winning, that's all that matters. We're really becoming pretty gritty and tough and understanding a lot of situations. We're going to be really prepared for whatever lies ahead."