A game in a cavernous, empty arena on a lazy Sunday afternoon against a scrappy mid-major? It's a recipe for ugly, sloppy basketball. And that's exactly what we saw from the Maryland Terrapins against George Mason in likely their final BB&T Classic. But we also saw another masterclass from Dezmine Wells, a showcase of Maryland's depth and athleticism, and, ultimately, the Terps' sixth straight win, topping the Patriots 69-62.
Mason may be a mid-major, but they're a solid team, having beaten Virginia earlier in the year. (And Virginia, which beat Wisconsin on the road, isn't too shabby.) Their physical and intense style of play troubled Maryland, especially given that the Terps sometimes seemed somewhat out-of-it, leading to a whole host of bad turnovers and poor offensive sets. Those old Terrapin foes, free throws and turnovers, reared their ugly heads once again, with Maryland shooting a troubling 59% from the stripe and finishing with an even-more-troubling 19 turnovers. Like so many games in the past, if Maryland had taken better care of those fundamentals, this game probably isn't close at all.
I doubt those errors will be so common as the season goes on, with few games to have the ... unique, let's say, atmosphere of the BB&T Classic. But it's a reminder that this team is quite young and far from where Mark Turgeon wants them to be on the basics.
Still, though, Maryland did win, and they can largely thank Dez Wells for that. After throwing up a career-high 23 points at Northwestern last time out, Wells did it one bucket better today, going for 25 on a hyper-efficient 11-17 from the field. It's beginning to become clear that he's probably Maryland's best offensive option, extraordinarily smooth and with a jarringly complete skillset. But he adds to that great defense and solid rebounding, plus generally smart play. The impact he'll ultimately have on this team could be extraordinary.
In addition to Wells' showing, the Terps made use of their superior athleticism, continuing to dominate the glass, winning the rebounding margin by 16, plus holding Mason to 31% shooting from the floor. Outside of red-hot freshman Patrick Holloway, the Patriots had very little working offensively, and Maryland's defensive efforts owe largely to that.
If you missed the game - as many did, thanks to the subpar television offerings of the event - it went much as you'd assume. Wells came out firing, hitting four consecutive shots and giving Maryland a comfortable early lead. Wells would finish with 15 first-half points, easily Maryland's most productive offensive option, but a worrisome 10 turnovers - four coming from Wells himself - gave George Mason a way back into the game. Holloway pounced, shooting 5-6 in a quick burst and pulling the Patriots within one just before half. A Wells three-pointer in the final minute would push the lead to 4.
Maryland's been a second-half team this season, but George Mason flipped that script early out of the break. The Patriots jumped out to a quick 7-0 run to give Mason a three-point lead, an anxious situation for a Maryland program that's dropped too many of these types of games in recent years. But the Terrapins kept riding their depth, athleticism, and top-level talent, with Wells in particular sparking the Terrapins back to a lead within minutes - a lead they wouldn't relinquish, even if they wouldn't build it up to a more comfortable margin.
I do fear that people were perhaps read more into this than is wise, but it's tough to deny that it was a rather unimpressive showing. Outside of Wells, who looked like all-ACC material for the second game in a row, there weren't too many positives to look at; this was more about grinding out an ugly win in a game Maryland didn't play particularly well in. Good that they did, and I assume that they'll be sharper after a) they gain some more experience, b) they learn from this scare, and c) they get back to playing in more traditional environments. But if you needed another dominant performance to keep you on the "Maryland is the second-best team in the ACC" train, you didn't get it today. (And the correct answer to that might be Virginia Tech, anyway.)
But it was a win. On a neutral floor, against a top-100 opponent. And it's Maryland's sixth in a row. There are problems there, problems that need solving, but there continues to be a base that's good enough to do damage in the ACC.