Terps hang on for much-needed road win, 67-57, over Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Whistles blew as Maryland center Alex Len lay on the court in a tangle of arms and legs, refusing to release his grip on the ball.

It was the final moments of Maryland's desperately needed 67-57 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday, and Len had flopped to the floor trying to beat the Demon Deacons' Devin Thomas to a loose ball.

Officials frantically tried to signal the end of the play as players formed a circle around Len and Thomas. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon crouched near the outside of the scrum, looking as if he might wade in after the ball himself. Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik also joined the crowd.

It mattered little to Turgeon that Wake Forest was awarded the held ball because the possession arrow pointed to its side. To Maryland's coach, the play exemplified that his team was finally showing the grit that had eluded it in so many previous road games.

The victory -- partly the result of Dez Wells' 23 points (11-for-12 from the floor) and Maryland's rugged defense on Wake Forest leader C.J. Harris -- kept alive the team's thin hopes of an NCAA tournament berth.

When it was over, Turgeon, a perfectionist who often seems tortured on the sideline, pumped his fist and emitted a scream -- "Yeah!" -- that seemed equal parts joy and relief.

It was the third road win of the season for the Terps (20-9, 8-8 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have two games left before the ACC tournament starts on March 14.

The victory followed a period of soul searching by the Terps.

After the team surrendered 78 points in a loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, Turgeon kept the team on the road between games and worked on nothing but defense.

The coaches voted on Saturday's starting lineup based on which player exhibited the best defense in those practices.

Saturday's starting lineup included a surprise -- point guard Pe'Shon Howard. Howard helped hold Harris to 5-for-16 shooting (19 points).

Harris was among the Demon Deacons honored before the game on Senior Day. Former Wake Forest star and current NBA point guard Chris Paul was at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to have his number retired at halftime.

Maryland's win took some of the luster off Wake Forest's big day.

Wells, who missed his career high by two points, said Paul joked with him at halftime to take it easy on the Demon Deacons (12-16, 5-11).

"Slow down," Wells said Paul told him. "Don't bust the score open on us."

Wells often scored by slashing to the basket.

"I feel like I was getting away from what I really do well, and that's getting to the basket," Wells said. "I was setting for a lot of jumpers and things like that. So I just wanted really to get back to who I am as a player."

Said Bzdelik: 'He's a handful in the open court.'

Howard started for the first time since Jan. 9. Before Saturday, he had often played without confidence. He was suspended for the Duke game on Feb. 16 for undisclosed reasons.

"I'm really happy for Pe'Shon, what he went through. He was phenomenal on Harris," Turgeon said.

Said Howard: "It was kind of like a coach's vote [on the starting lineup], and I'm happy they picked me."

Logan Aronhalt's 3-pointer put Maryland ahead, 44-41, with 10:43 left. The Terps didn't trail after that.

Maryland was hurt in the second half by foul trouble. Wells, James Padgett, Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell all had their minutes limited by fouls. Padgett later fouled out.

But Turgeon didn't mind that his team was aggressive to the point of committing multiple fouls.

In the teams' first meeting, an 86-60 victory for Maryland at Comcast Center on Feb. 2,- Len had taken a forearm to the chest from Thomas, the brother of Terps women's basketball star Alyssa Thomas.

In Saturday's game, the two tangled again.

"The referees for probably 30 seconds were telling both guys to let go of it and neither one of them would," Turgeon said. "It's good for Alex to do something like that. One, to get on the floor, and two, to not let go of it. But that was our attitude today and hopefully it will carry forward for the rest of the year."