Well, folks, it appears we have ourselves a contender.
Last night, in a raucous atmosphere at Xfinity Center, in front of fans craving a meaningful victory, the No. 14 Terrapins men’s basketball team toppled No. 5 Wisconsin, 59-53.
The performance was close to flawless. And the Terps needed every player in coach Mark Turgeon’s 10-man rotation to pull off their best victory of the season — one that will undoubtedly have implications come March.
The tone for a tenacious and tough display on both ends of the floor started with Dez Wells, who finished with a game-high 26 points. The senior guard went 9 of 17 from the field, the result of him attacking the rim with a ferocity bordering on reckless.
Just check the Vine of his highlight-reel dunk, when he blew by Sam Dekker and threw down a jam no one saw coming. Even point guard Melo Trimble thought his teammate was going up for the layup.
It wasn’t just scoring from Wells, either. He added seven rebounds and four assists while playing lockdown defense on Dekker, one of the most versatile offensive players in the country.
“He was not going to let us lose,” Turgeon said of his senior leader.
Trimble, meanwhile, complemented Well’s performance with 16 points, four rebounds and two assists of his own.
No play from the freshman was more impressive than his and-1 layup with 33.3 seconds remaining that extended the Terps’ lead to 57-52, even though he missed the ensuing free throw.
Turgeon said he was trying to set up a play for Wells, who made numerous cuts toward and away from Trimble in search of a pass or handoff near midcourt. But the Badgers were denying Wells.
So Wells drifted away. The shot clock dipped to less than 10 seconds. Trimble, though, stayed calm. He took one peek at the time left, burst toward the rim and converted the biggest basket of the game.
While Wells and Trimble shouldered the load offensively, the rest of the Terps contributed on the boards and on defense.
By merely looking at his stat line, one would think forward Jake Layman — the other member of Turgeon’s big three along with Wells and Trimble — played a horrendous game. He scored six points, grabbed three rebounds and shot 3 of 11 from the field, including 0 of 2 from three.
But it was clear Layman had a massive impact on this game. He exhibited tremendous energy from the opening whistle and played stout on-ball defense against wing Nigel Hayes.
Perhaps most importantly, Layman accumulated two blocks, both on Dekker. The more impressive of the two came in the first half after Dekker secured a weak-side rebound. He rose to lay in what appeared to be an easy deuce, but Layman jumped from a flat-footed stance and sent the shot careening off the backboard.
Continue down the list of Terps contributors, and you find more players in similar situations to Layman: forwards Michal Cekovsky and Evan Smotrycz.
The last time Cekovsky played more than 20 minutes, the Terps were ranked No. 21 in the nation and never led in a loss at home to then-No. 7 Virginia. He logged a combined four minutes in the past two games, wins over Penn State and Nebraska.
Still, Turgeon said he knew a performance like this was coming from Cekovsky, whose confident defensive play caused fits for Badgers forward Frank Kaminsky, a legitimate national Player of the Year candidate.
Cekovsky held Kaminsky to six first-half points. Though the Wisconsin senior finished with 18 on the game, Cekovsky’s performance in the opening 20 minutes left Kaminsky frustrated for the remainder of the contest.
Then there was Smotrycz, who extended his field-goal drought to two games but played outstanding defense and grabbed five rebounds, many of them in crucial moments.
Turgeon went small with Smotrycz at center for the final six minutes of regulation. And despite Wisconsin’s size advantage with the 7-foot Kaminsky, Smotrycz held his own.
“Total team effort,” Turgeon said.
It sure was.
When the Terps are clicking as they did last night, they’re tough to beat.
Watch out, America.