Despite some shaky moments, Maryland buckled down on defense and Dez Wells took over to lead the Terps to victory at Wake Forest. Wells is the first player in some time to earn an A+ in our report card …
Wells put Maryland on his back, making 11 of 12 shots and earning an A+ in the process. (IMS File photo by Bill Bride)
Cut out the missed free throws (1 for 5) and turnovers (5), and Wells played a near-perfect game. Regardless, he earns an A+ for putting the team on his shoulders and keeping its NCAA hopes alive. Not only did he make 11 of 12 shots, but many of them were difficult, acrobatic finishes at the basket. And most came when Maryland desperately needed them.
After Wake seized momentum midway through the first half, Wells reeled off seven points in 90 seconds to regain control for the Terps before the break. After the Demon Deacons used a 9-0 run to gain the lead early in the second half, he went baseline for a reverse layup, grabbed a defense rebound, raced up court with his head up and found Charles Mitchell for a three-point play to stop the bleeding.
Another impressive facet of Wells’ game is how he plays to his strengths; even when he was hot, he passed on open jumpers in favor of higher-percentage plays.
If you remove the turnovers and free-throw struggles, this would’ve been the best individual performance of this season.
Len set the defensive tone immediately with a big block on Wake’s first possession. Minutes later, he went up without hesitation and scored on a pretty left-handed hook shot. But he picked up two fouls in the next five minutes and went quiet for much of the game, finishing with just five points. He did collect 10 rebounds, and produced an important series of plays in the final four minutes, blocking a shot and then hitting a long jump shot. Earlier, though, he botched an alley-oop on one possession and declined to take a short shot on another, dishing the ball at the last second and prompting a three-second violation.
In other words, Len had some good moments but rarely asserted himself on offense.
Faust alternated between good and bad consistently in the first half. First came a poor feed to Alex Len that resulted in a turnover and a Wake Forest three-pointer, then a pretty runner in the lane. He forced his next runner, missing, before bailing out Seth Allen by hitting the floor for a loose ball after Allen lost it. That was followed by an out-of-control reverse lay-up attempt.
When no one else on teh roster could hit from outside, Aronhalt's three-point shots were a huge boost. (IMS File Photo by Bill Bride)
Early in the second half when Wake was making its run, Faust got the ball stuck on his back and lost it, leading to a C.J. Harris dunk that gave the Demon Deacons the lead. Later, after a pretty give-and-go with Alex Len, he missed a wide-open lay-up. Wake hit a three-pointer on the other end for a quick five-point swing. He did make a clutch play in the final two minutes, though, making another nice runner to help seal the win.
At the risk of over-analyzing, it seems Faust's mindset is being affected by needing to play several different roles.
With everyone but Wells struggling to score, Aronhalt’s two three-pointers late in the first half were big shots, giving Maryland a six-point halftime lead after a half that amounted to more of a draw. Aronhalt 3-for-7 shooting from behind the arc may not be impressive at face value, but those shots came at a huge premium; the rest of the team was 0-for-11 on three-pointers. Without them, this would’ve been a 50-50 game at the end.
Padgett’s always had a tough time defensively against strong players, but it’s easy to see he’s scrapping with everything he’s got as his career winds down. He fought for position early against Devin Thomas to get a stop, and later chased his man on an inbounds play, forcing an off-ball screening foul on Harris. Later in the half, Wake Forest scored a couple of buckets when Padgett had his shot blocked and committed a bad turnover.
Earlier in his career, Padgett scored primarily on putbacks and rarely passed the ball out of the post. But his post moves and passing have improved, even during the course of this season. He scored twice on sweet left-handed hook shots, kicked the ball out to Aronhalt for one of his late-first half threes and later battled for an offensive rebound and putback on a Len miss.
Howard got off to another rocky start, suffering a few defensive lapses that led to Wake Forest baskets, falling down and losing the ball after an outlet pass from Wells and missing a couple of open threes. But he showed mental toughness by recovering in the second half after a tip-in of his own miss seemed to get his juices flowing. He skipped the ball across court nicely to Aronhalt for a three, and showed a flash of his old ways with a driving scoop shot.
His eight points were the most he’s scored in ACC play, and his four assists were the most he’s recorded in nearly two months. It wasn’t a starring performance by any stretch, but it was one the coaching staff is likely praying he can build on.
For all of his rebounding prowess, Mitchell’s defense has probably cost him playing time this season. But judging by what appears to be increased effort on that end, he seems to have gotten the message. He was physical in the post and was more active with his hands than he’s been all year, grabbing three steals. In the previous 28 games, he’d totaled five steals.
Mitchell, who was quiet offensively, continues to force things a bit with his back to the basket and has a minor tendency to hook his defender, but his newfound defensive energy boosts his grade.
It’s easy to see Cleare’s late-season progression. He’s a brick wall in the paint on both ends and looks like he’s gaining confidence in his low-post offense as the season wears on. The biggest challenge for Cleare remains staying out of foul trouble. He picked up four in just 10 minutes. Still, he’s been slowly moving into a more prominent role because of his defense and willingness to play within himself. Cleare played more than 10 minutes twice in Maryland’s first six ACC games. He’s topped that number in seven of the past 10.
Allen’s been scuffling lately. The good news: he remains confident in his shot and doesn’t seem to have let his drought affect his mindset. The bad: he’s made three of his past 17 three-point attempts. After couple of bad decisions and missed shots in the first half, he found himself on the bench for much of the game, logging nine minutes – the fewest he’s played this season. With two huge games coming up, Mark Turgeon can only hope that Allen bounces back and gives the team some much-needed perimeter scoring.
Layman, like Allen, is struggling with his shot – he’s made four of his past 24 three-point attempts -- and appears to be rushing it a bit. He missed all four shots he took and also like Allen, played just nine minutes.