Highlights from the Maryland men's basketball team's 64-58 victory over Penn State. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
More than two months removed from fracturing his right wrist after hitting the floor at the Sprint Center in Kansas City in the first minute of Maryland's upset of No. 11 Iowa State, senior guard Dez Wells finally looked like the player who started the season expected to be one of the Big Ten's best.
More than two years after transferring from Penn State to return to his home state and the school where his father starred more than three decades ago, senior forward Jon Graham looked like the player who finished as the second-leading scorer behind Juan Dixon at Calvert Hall.
Together, they led the No. 17 Terps to a much-needed victory Wednesday, six days after Maryland suffered its worst loss of the season. With Wells scoring 23 points – the most since the second game of the season – and Graham adding a career-high 16 points, the Terps survived pesky Penn State, 64-58, at Xfinity Center.
Wells made 8 of 10 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts, and had seven rebounds.
"It's the best I felt since before Thanksgiving," Wells said. "I'm getting close to 100 percent. It was amazing, so refreshing."
Asked if his performance, which included making 6 of 7 attempts from the field and banking in one of his four free throws (in seven attempts) was reminiscent of his high school days in Baltimore, Graham smiled and said, "A little bit."
Coming against his former team, Graham said, "It was a fun night. I'm just happy we won the game."
Wells called a vicious dunk in the second half that led to a three-point play and gave the Terps a 42-36 lead "my wakeup call to everybody," adding, "there's a lot of great talent around this conference. I just want to put myself in position [where] I can be considered amongst those guys."
Penn State guard D.J. Newbill, who came into the game as the Big Ten's leading scorer, led Penn State (14-9, 2-8) with 18 points, yet hit just 6 of 19 shots from the field while being defended mostly by Wells and fellow senior guard Richaud Pack.
Graham, Newbill's former roommate in State College, had never scored more than 10 points in a college game - twice at Maryland and twice at Penn State – but gave the Terps their biggest offensive performance from one of their big men this season.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Graham scored seven of Maryland's first 11 points in the second half, with many of the baskets coming off neat drop-off passes from freshman point guard Melo Trimble, who did not have a basket for the second straight game (0-for-5, 4 points) but had a career-high eight assists.
"I thought Melo just did a tremendous job, dribbling and penetrating the defense," Graham said. "We found open shooters, big men rolling to the basket. I thought he did a tremendous job. It was the great play of Melo Trimble driving and penetrating and I was just the beneficiary of his great passes."
The victory helped Maryland (19-4, 7-3) regain some of the confidence it had lost in recent blowout road defeats at Ohio State (80-56) and Indiana (89-70). It looked as if they would come down to the buzzer, as they did against Northwestern, before Wells took control in the final couple of minutes.
In reality, the Terps took control of the game at the end with their defense. After the Nittany Lions climbed back from a 39-31 deficit early in the second half to twice take the lead – the second time at 50-49 on a three-point play by Newbill with 7:56 remaining - Maryland tightened its clamps on the 6-4 guard.
Though Newbill missed his last five shots, Penn State stayed in there with two straight 3-pointers by 6-6 junior forward Brandon Taylor, who cut a five-point Maryland lead to two, 57-55, with 1:42 left and later cut the deficit to one, 59-58, with 1:05 to go.
"They've played everybody tough on the road, they played us tough, we couldn't lose them," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of the Nittany Lions. "We'd get a lead and they'd come right back. The kid [Taylor] made two unbelievable shots down the stretch for them to make us work a little bit harder.
"Melo with the ball in his hands was tremendous. He made a big play to Damonte [Dodd for a dunk to put the Terps up, 57-52]. I thought the last seven or eight minutes, offensively we executed at a high level and I thought defensively the last three or four minutes we were really good."
Turgeon has often talked since Wells returned about "Dez being Dez", including when he followed on a missed 3-pointer by Trimble at the end of the Northwestern game to win. On Wednesday night, one of the ACC's most dynamic – if inconsistent – players of the past two years took that mantle in the Big Ten.
"I thought he was too amped up at first, and a little out of kilter, for him, but I thought the second half he was really good," Turgeon said. "Dez was good."