COLLEGE PARK -- A year ago, Mark Turgeon’s first Maryland team was on its way to becoming a one-man team. Terrell Stoglin eventually wore out — himself and his welcome — and the Terps quickly evolved into a deeper, more talented group.
That evolution continued Friday night at Comcast Center, where Maryland had nearly as many highlight blocks as dunks — as well as an unsightly dozen first-half turnovers — in a 91-74 victory over winless LIU Brooklyn.
“This was a game that I was concerned about obviously for a long time,” said Turgeon, alluding to the fact that the Blackbirds (0-3) had been to two straight NCAA tournaments. “We were much better offensively in the second half than we’ve been all year. ... Had a lot of guys step up and play well.”
Maryland (2-1) had three players score in double figures, but just as importantly one in double-digit assists. Junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard orchestrated the break to finish with a career-high 13 assists (with only one turnover) in helping turn a relatively close game into a second straight blowout.
Freshman guard Seth Allen led the Terps with 19 points — 16 in the second half after hitting a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give Maryland a 39-30 lead — and sophomore center Alex Len finished with with 18 points, seven rebounds and four of Maryland’s 10 blocked shots.
But it was the play of tranfer Dez Wells that might have been the most significant development.
Well seemed to play under control for the first time since regaining his eligibility last week, stuffing the box score as he did the basket with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals in a team-high 33 minutes.
“Dez Wells played like the kid I thought he could play like,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon said he sat down with Wells a few hours before the game to try to ease some of the pressure the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard had been feeling since learning that his NCAA purgatory was over and his Maryland career would begin this season rather than next.
“I don’t know why it changed tonight,” Turgeon said. “I said that I think you’re putting way too much pressure on yourself, we have a good basketball team with good players, you don’t have to be the guy every night for us to be successful. You just have to be Dez Wells. I think that’s what he did tonight.”
Said Wells: “He just wanted me to do a good job and stay under control, and control my emotions. He asked me if there was a lot of pressure and I said, ‘Yeah.’ I don’t think people are putting it on me, but everyone’s excited that I’m here. He told me, ‘I’ll take all the pressure, just do what you do.’”
What Wells does is give the Terps one of their best all-around players in recent memory, and his ability to get to the basket in a hurry has given Maryland the perfect conduit between Howard and Len, or even freshman center Shaquille Cleare, who had eight points (including two dunks) on 4 of 5 shooting.
With more room to operate on the perimeter, Howard has suddenly emerged into the kind of point guard Turgeon, a former point guard himself, envisioned. Howard now has 25 assists to only six turnovers for the season. He also had seven points, seven rebounds and two steals on Friday.
“When I’m in control — and I watch a lot of film with all the coaches — I know where I want to be on the court and where my teammates are going to be, and it makes it a lot easier,” Howard said.
Asked how much easier things are for him now compared to his first two seasons when the scoring options were limited, Howard said, “There are two different systems. This one I have a lot more people who can make plays and I’m able to penetrate more and make a few more plays.”
Despite being in control for much of the first half, Maryland couldn’t shake LIU until the last 7 1/2 minutes.
Leading 66-59, Turgeon pulled most of his big players such as Cleare, fellow freshman Charles Mitchell and senior forward James Padgett and surrounded Len with four perimeter players — Wells, Howard, Allen and Nick Faust. The Terps built their lead to as many as 20 points at 91-71.
It was a lineup Turgeon had not even used yet in practice.
“It changed the game,” he said. “I was really stubborn tonight. I kept the big lineup in too long. I get tired of bailing kids out, I want them to bail themselves out.“
It’s just one more combination added to what already seems like an endless list of possibilities. But as Turgeon’s second team evolves, there seem to be three constants — Howard at the point, Len inside and Wells just about everywhere else.
Can Turgeon keep everyone happy?
“No, but guys got to grow up, and put Maryland first,” he said. “If you’re not going to play well, you’re not going to go back in.”
It’s much different than a year ago, when the Terps were a one-man team, and not a very good one.
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