Dez Wells leads Terps past Wake Forest in opening round of ACC tournament

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Unlikely to ascend to the NCAA tournament, Maryland hoped to hang around and savor the sights and sounds of the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney. It's not the big dance, but it has its own traditions and charm.

The seventh-seeded Terps extended their visit to Greensboro Coliseum by defeating Wake Forest, 75-62, on Thursday night behind Dez Wells' strong second half. It sets up their third meeting of the season with Duke in Friday night's quarterfinals. The second-seeded Blue Devils had a first-round bye.

Wells scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half — including nine of Maryland's first 11 after the break.

"I feel like everybody tells me I'm the energy guy on this team — they go as I go," Wells said. "At times it can be unfair [taking over games] but that's the role that I have on this team."

Maryland (21-11) has advanced to at least the second day in each of the past five ACC tournaments. Last year, the Terps were the eighth seed and beat Wake Forest in the opening round.

To reach the NCAA tournament, the Terps likely need to earn the automatic bid that comes with winning the ACC tourney. Maryland split a pair of regular season games with Duke (27-4) this season, but both games came before hot-shooting Blue Devile forward Ryan Kelly returned from a foot injury.

"Ryan changes the dynamic of the team," Wells said.

Maryland took a 59-55 lead Thursday on a 3-pointer by Pe'Shon Howard. The lead became 64-56 on a put-back and foul shot by Charles Mitchell with 4:43 left.

The Terps usually win when they get to the foul line a lot — a sign they are being aggressive. They shot 29 free throws Thursday night, making 22.

"That was the difference," coach Mark Turgeon said.

"Any postseason win is good," Turgeon said of the victory. "I got after our guys a little bit at halftime and talked about energy. We came out with energy to start the second half."

After an up-and-down season, Howard was gratified to play a key role. As a junior, he is one of the oldest players on a young team and said he lost sight earlier in the season of how to be a leader.

"That was the main thing I thought I could have done better was influence my teammates and just be positive," he said.

Maryland clearly enjoyed being here. When the Terps formed a circle before the game, Wells jumped around in the middle of it, smiling, slamming into teammates and slapping the floor. Maryland center Alex Len enjoyed making the first 3-pointer of his career on his eighth attempt.

"I'm excited — my first American 3," said Len, who is from Ukraine.

Len was limited by foul trouble but managed 11 points.

Wake Forest (13-18) led by as many as seven points in the first half behind the shooting of C.J. Harris. It was a half in which Len had more 3-pointers (one) and fouls (two) than two-pointers (zero).

Len had some difficult stretches early. "What are you doing, Alex?" Turgeon shouted after Len surrendered an inside basket by Travis McKie.

Still, the Terps defeated Wake Forest for the third time this season. In the teams' last meeting, Wells shot 11-for-12 from the floor. Only Colorado State's Colton Iverson (12-for-12) had a better percentage this season among shooters taking at least a dozen shots.

Some Wake Forest fans have bought newspaper ads here criticizing coach Jeff Bzdelik and calling for his dismissal.

"First of all, I don't read the newspapers or the Internet and that's the truth," Bzdelik said. "I don't worry about things I don't have any control over."

Maryland focused on curtailing Harris, who was 6-for-6 on 3-point attempts in Wake Forest's previous game against Virginia Tech. Harris had 19 points Thursday night, but only six after halftime and he shot 5-for-15.

"Pe'shon did a great job running him off the 3-point line," Maryland guard Seth Allen said. "He stayed on his feet, didn't go for ball fakes. He's a great defender. We put him on almost all the best players."

Maryland's defense held the Demon Deacons to 27 points in the second half.

Now, the Terps get little rest before playing Duke.

"It's just like AAU," Allen said. "I played like six games a day [for two teams], so I'm ready.'