COLLEGE PARK--Dez Wells came to Maryland in part because the program built in College Park intrigued him. He often asks former coach Lefty Driesell to tell him stories about Len Bias. He has looked around Cole Field House with an unending curiosity on his path toward understanding the roots of the program of which he is now the face.
On Sunday night at Comcast Center, he carved out his own place in Maryland history.
In the midst of another second-half scoring outburst, he waved his arms in the air with 2:25 to play in regulation, urging the crowd to rise to its feet as Maryland gained possession with a four-point lead, 62-58, over No. 5 Virginia.
The noise that gradually swelled and boiled over was undoubtedly the loudest eruption produced within that arena in what has been a 2013-14 season that has thus far fallen short of expectations. But in that moment, as Wells raised his hands and willed the crowd to its feet, the pain of close losses and dwindling NCAA tournament hopes seemed to subside.
Former coach Gary Williams was courtside. Former guard Steve Francis was in attendance. Names like Walt Williams, Tahj Holden, Ernie Graham, Juan Dixon. They were all there in some capacity. The final regular season ACC game ever for Maryland was unfolding and Wells was the conductor at the front of the orchestra.
“Today just wasn’t an ordinary game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “You can tell by all the cameras ... You can tell by the fans ... Today, we played for former players, former coaches, all our fans.”
In this unordinary game, Wells scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. He fueled Maryland’s early push in the final 20 minutes then scored the Terrapins’ final field goal of the game, a layup with 1:30 to play that gave his team a 71-67 lead.
Sophomore Jake Layman described the range of emotions in Maryland’s huddle as the first overtime began. There was mix of sadness and anger, he said, but the flare of a competitive fire and words of encouragement and motivation.
It was decided which side of the fence Wells stood on.
“We’re not letting this go,” Wells recalled thinking postgame. “We’re not because we’ve had too many games this year decided by one or two points, so we have to go out here and take this win.”
Layman’s four late free throws down the stretch of overtime would seal it and out onto the floor would spill 61 years of history as students rushed to midcourt to celebrate after the game’s final buzzer and a 75-69 Maryland win.
This will be the piece of Maryland’s history with Wells at the forefront: a court storm after beating the No. 5 team in the country on Senior Day in the final ACC regular season game ever.
It will never be possible to tell the story of this game, perhaps symbolically the most important in program history, without the detail about 16 points after halftime from Wells. That belongs to him.
The North Carolina native is the single player who has most decidedly set the course for Mark Turgeon’s still-young tenure at Maryland following his transfer from Xavier. He was the one that the crowd listened to in the remaining minutes of regulation against Virginia and, fittingly enough, was the last to score a field goal in the win.
For a reason.
“We’re trying to build something,” Turgeon said. “We’ve got one senior. This will help us as we move forward.”
Maryland is building and Dez Wells is doing more than his fair share.