It was a late misstep in a game full of them. And, Terrapins men’s basketball guard Dez Wells thought, he had to make up for it somehow.
With eight seconds remaining in last night’s nail-biting contest, Wells had let Northwestern guard Tre Demps rise up and bury a jump shot over his hand to give the Wildcats a one-point lead. Suddenly, it seemed the Terps’ frantic 11-point comeback in the final four minutes was destined to fall short.
But Wells was motivated to leave his mark on his team’s final possession even after guard Melo Trimble rifled a quick 3-pointer from the wing. So as Trimble’s shot flew toward the rim, Wells moved under the hoop. Then when the ball clanked off the rim, the senior rose up to snag the rebound, twisted his body and pushed the ball up and in through the hoop with 1.4 seconds left.
The acrobatic putback served as the game-winner for the No. 13 Terps in a 68-67 victory over the Wildcats. It sent an announced 14,113 fans at Xfinity Center into frenzy along with Terps coach Mark Turgeon, who ran around the court pumping his fists while searching for players to hug.
“Dez does what Dez does,” Turgeon said of his senior leader, who finished with 17 points and made up for his four turnovers with those late-game heroics. “He was upset he let the guy score on him, so he was going to get to that ball. It was a big-time tip.”
Northwestern, which has now lost six straight games, had built a big lead by shooting 69.9 percent from the field in the first half, marking a continuation of the Terps’ defensive struggles from their blowout loss at Indiana on Thursday.
Even after the Terps’ defense stiffened in the second half, the Wildcats (10-10, 1-6 Big Ten) pulled within one rebound of their first conference win in 2015. Instead, the Terps (18-3, 6-2) avoided a shocking loss, and Wells added to a long list of clutch performances compiled through his college career.
“I wasn’t going to let nobody stop me from getting the ball,” Wells said.
Those early defensive struggles put the Terps in a hole, but their offense didn’t find much of a rhythm until those final minutes. Trimble finished with a game-high 27 points, but he and Wells were the only Terps to finish with double-digit scoring totals, and the team shot 40.7 percent from the field on the night.
The Terps’ deficiencies, though, evaporated down the stretch. With his team trailing by 11 points and less than three and a half minutes remaining in the game, Trimble sliced through the lane for an and-1 that started the Terps’ late run.
Then Wells, who has seen a dip in offensive production this year, scored back-to-back layups to cut the lead to four as Northwestern struggled with the Terps’ full-court pressure defense.
“We almost had to be perfect after the last media timeout to win the game,” Turgeon said. “And we were close to that.”
After the Wildcats scored to stunt the Terps’ comeback, forward Jake Layman buried a 3-pointer and Trimble finished a layup to trim the lead to one. Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh then missed the front end of a one-on-one at the free-throw line, and Trimble followed by burying a pair of his own free throws to give the Terps a lead with 20 seconds left, their first of the game.
But then Demps drained the shot over Wells, and a previously amped Xfinity Center crowd fell silent. Wells, meanwhile, was growing motivated.
“That’s just how he is,” Layman said. “When it comes down to it in the end, he’s going to do what he has to do to win. That’s what happened tonight.”
About 30 minutes after his game-saving score, Wells sat at a table in the Xfinity Center press room with about a dozen media members circled around him. The reporters wanted to know about how Wells felt after clinching a win, and they hoped to learn how the team abolished an 11-point lead so quickly.
But Wells only had one thing on his mind.
“The guy hit the shot on me,” said Wells, who had stormed off the court as thousands of fans screamed his name earlier that night. “That’s what’s under my skin right now.”