COLLEGE PARK — The announcement Friday that Maryland senior guard Dez Wells will be out a month with a broken right wrist certainly takes some of the steam out of his team's 5-0 start and its 72-63 victory over No. 13 Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic championship game Tuesday in Kansas City.
That said, it won't derail what had – and still has – the makings of a turnaround season for fourth-year coach Mark Turgeon and the Terps.
As important as Wells has been to the program since transferring from Xavier as a sophomore, and as good a leader he has become this season, Maryland is playing its best basketball since Turgeon arrived as much because of its freshmen as other upperclassmen.
Former Maryland star and ESPN analyst Len Elmore, who worked the CBE games at the Sprint Center, believes the Terps can withstand their second major injury of the season and third in the past two years better now because of what transpired earlier this week.
"It comes down to maintaining that poise that they had, that maturity that they demonstrated," Elmore said Friday. "Mark has to use his pump and fill those guys with confidence, not to the point where they get overconfident. They can look at each other and say, 'Together, we can do this.'"
Wells has been the leading scorer (16.2 points) for the Terps this season, and certainly will be missed over the next few games, including Wednesday's matchup with No. 8 Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Xfinity Center. He could be back for Maryland's first Big Ten game, against Michigan State on Dec. 30.
"Dez has been playing at a very high level and we will certainly miss our team leader," Turgeon said in a statement released shortly after Wells underwent surgery in Baltimore. "I am extremely disappointed for Dez because I know how hard he has worked in the offseason to prepare for his senior season."
Wells had also worked all summer getting his young teammates ready to compete, and had apparently done a great job. Now it will be up to junior forward Jake Layman and seniors Jon Graham, Richaud Pack and Evan Smotrycz, who is expected back Friday after missing the first month with a broken foot, to take up that leadership void.
It will be up to Layman to take a bigger role as a scorer, something he has looked comfortable doing this season.
"I think he has to become their go-to guy, I don't think you press Trimble or any of the young guys into service as the go-to guys down the stretch," Elmore said.
If it had been Wells' team for the first five games, it is fair to say that it is now freshman point guard Melo Trimble's team, at least until Wells returns. Trimble played a starring role in Kansas City, where he scored 31 points against Arizona State Monday, controlled the pace against Iowa State Tuesday, and was named tournament MVP.
Elmore believes Trimble has already assumed that role.
"It's always been his team, he's the point guard, it's supposed to be his team," Elmore said. "He's been given the reigns, he's just got to learn how to handle it. His skill and learning curve has been quick. In many ways, he reminds me of Luke [John Lucas]. He's got the four C's – cool, calm, collected and cocky. But he needs help."
The timing of the injury also isn't terrible, coming in a stretch when the Terps play only two games against top-flight competition, Wednesday against the Cavaliers and Dec. 21 at Oklahoma State. Compared to Smotrycz's broken foot, and the broken foot suffered by former Terp Seth Allen last season, Wells' injury is not as serious in terms of recovery.
It might be another "blessing in disguise," as Turgeon said after Smotrycz went down. Maryland's top 10 recruiting class has already made major contributions and made the tumult that followed last season a distant memory.
The truth is, the win over the Cyclones at the Sprint Center was about the way Trimble slowed the game down, about the way big man Michal Cekovsky and sophomore Damonte Dodd forced Iowa State to go outside and about the way freshman wing Jared Nickens quieted the crowd with his 3-point shooting.
That's not to say Wells won't be missed. His bravado, his rim-shaking dunks and his newly-honed jump shot seemed to give his teammates confidence. Just as Maryland overcame a 5-for-20 shooting performance and a couple of late turnovers by Wells Tuesday night, the Terps can ovecome his absence for the next month.