COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Dez Wells led Maryland in scoring during his first two seasons and ranks 25th in school history with 1,292 points.
His legacy, however, will be the leadership he provided on coach Mark Turgeon’s first NCAA tournament team with the Terrapins.
Wells will be the focal point of Senior Day when Maryland closes out its home schedule against Michigan on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 swingman scored 26 points on Tuesday night in the 14th-ranked Terrapins’ rousing 59-53 win over No. 5 Wisconsin. Although his clutch shooting was pivotal, Wells’ demeanor proved just as valuable in the team’s biggest victory of the year.
“It’s a good feeling when your senior leader says, ‘It’s all right, coach. I’ve got this. There’s no way we’re not going to win this game,'” Turgeon said. “He made some big-time plays. And he made guys better.”
Wells came to Maryland in 2012 after being expelled from Xavier following an allegation of sexual assault. Wells filed suit against Xavier, claiming the charges against him were false, and the issue was ultimately settled out of court.
The NCAA agreed to waive the usual transfer requirement for sitting out, and Wells immediately became a star at Maryland.
He led the team with 13.1 points per game as a sophomore and averaged 14.9 last year. But the Terrapins weren’t good enough to reach the NCAA tournament, a situation Wells vowed to rectify this year as Maryland prepared to make its debut in the Big Ten following a 61-year run in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We wanted to do something special in our first season in the Big Ten,” Wells said. “This is a winning program and we just want to keep that going.”
Wells certainly has done his part for the Terrapins (23-5, 11-4), the surprise team in the conference. This is by far Turgeon’s best squad since he replaced Gary Williams in 2011, and while freshman guard Melo Trimble deserves much of the credit, the Terps wouldn’t be here without Wells.
“Dez is a senior, he’s a veteran guy,” Trimble said. “He’s been through it all. He gives me key points and sometimes I give him my words of wisdom, but he already knows some of it. He really teaches me how to be aggressive and stuff like that.”
Although Wells’ season was interrupted for a month with a fractured right wrist, he’s averaging 15.1 points per game, second on the team behind Trimble.
There’s no one close in terms of leadership.
“He’s had a lot of great games for us. He’s been a great player for Maryland for three years,” Turgeon said. “That’s what you expect out of a guy who grows with the program — you expect him to do what he does.”
Wells was at his absolute best against Wisconsin. He went 9 for 17 from floor, made all seven of his free throws, led the team with seven rebounds and four assists and didn’t commit a single turnover.
“Coach wants me to do everything great. I guess this was a glimpse of what he wants me to be,” Wells said.
The Terps hope to keep the momentum going Saturday. Before the game, Maryland fans will say farewell to more than a half-dozen seniors, none of whom will receive a louder ovation than Wells.
After the season is done, Wells will seek a job in the NBA. Turgeon has no doubt how that will turn out.
“Dez is special,” Turgeon said. “I think Dez is a pro. He should be a first-rounder and he’ll make somebody’s roster just because of the way he competes.”
After Wells leaves, his love for the school and the program won’t vanish.
“I’m very excited to come back and show a lot of support for these guys,” he said. “It’s going to be weird, but it’s going to be an amazing feeling.”
Follow 106.7 The Fan on Twitter
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)