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Maryland basketball news and notes: Terps' Dez Wells tries to find his stride again

Amid Maryland's recent success, two seniors have struggled. And what's behind the drop in free throw tries for Melo Trimble? News and notes from the Terps' media availabilities on Saturday at XFINITY Center.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Dez Wells entered the season as Maryland basketball's undisputed leader and star. In some senses, he still is, but it's been a tough go recently for the senior shooting guard and preseason Wooden Award watch-lister.

Wells is still dominating the ball while he's on the court, leading the team with a 29 percent possession usage rate. He's still averaging 13.3 points per contest, down a tick from last year but not precipitously lower. He's rebounding as much as ever (4.8 times per game, on average) while assisting on baskets and stealing the ball at a career-high rate. He hasn't been bad, yet Wells hasn't been entirely himself. He's been much less efficient.

His offensive rating is a career-low 97.6, but he's shooting more than ever while he's on the court. Despite outstanding, if limited, three-point shooting (52 percent on 25 tries), Wells's effective field goal and true shooting percentages are lower than ever. He's been good from the foul line and beyond the arc, but he's shooting just 38 percent on two-pointers. That's 14 percent lower than the next-worst mark of his career, and it explains virtually all of Wells's mild statistical decline. In his last three games, Wells is shooting 81 percent from the foul line and 57 percent on threes. On two-pointers, he's at 20 percent. The geographic disparity is stark.

Wells said on Saturday that his recently injured right wrist – still wrapped with tape as of the weekend – wasn't hampering him. But rounding back into form after missing a month of action from late November to late December, he said, has taken time. It is clearly an ongoing process.

"You just take it with a grain of salt, and you make sure that you stay accountable for your own confidence, and you keep working and keep grinding," Wells said. "Up to this point, it's always worked for me, and everything has always fallen into place when I've done those things."

His coach, Mark Turgeon, said Maryland needed Wells to round into form to fit the offensive system.

"I just want him to be within the system," Turgeon said. "That's the whole thing. If Dez is feeling well, if he's getting to the rim, he'll be pretty aggressive. He knows he's also very important to us; when he's sharing the ball, we're really hard to guard. He'll find that."

Neither Turgeon nor Wells seems to want the senior to settle into a firm backseat, even as forward Jake Layman and guard Melo Trimble excel. Their goal, clearly, is for Wells to get back to where he's been in the past – not to some watered-down version of himself as a supporting cast member who only facilitates and doesn't shoot. Wells said he wants to be "unstoppable" with a diversified game.

"It's a process," Wells said. "The point is to play your best basketball in March."

Smotrycz, Wells in similar boats

No player on the roster has been more maligned than Evan Smotrycz, the senior forward who missed his own month of action with a broken foot at the season's outset. Smotrycz has struggled to lift off offensively, shooting at career-low percentages from both inside and outside the three-point arc.

In addition to his injured and later re-aggravated foot, Smotrycz injured his right, shooting hand late in the Terrapins' win against Michigan State on January 17. He's been wearing a wrap on that shooting hand – a rare move for any basketball player, let alone a shooter like Smotrycz, and he's generally failed to recapture the stroke that made him so attractive to Turgeon as a transfer candidate almost three years ago.

Like Wells, Smotrycz is very much working out kinks on his way back into form. He is playing through pain.

"I know I've said it a lot, but it really is getting a little better, day by day," Smotrycz said.

Smotrycz hasn't performed well on offense, but there's statistical reason to suggest he'll get better. His current 24 percent three-point rate is 14 percent below his four-year career average, and his 42 percent two-point mark is three points off his career pace. If shooters really do go through hot and cold stretches, it stands to reason Smotrycz has positive regression on the horizon. And while he's been bad shooting, Smotrycz has upped his assist rate to a career-best 15.3 percent, confirming the visual impression that he's evolved into one of Maryland's better post passers.

"It all comes with getting back in shape. Obviously, early, it's kind of tough to shoot when I'm really tired, and I've definitely improved on that," Smotrycz said. His wrapped hand, he added, has presented another challenge.

Smotrycz doesn't have a defender's reputation, but Turgeon liked his defensive effort against Indiana in what was, altogether, a season-worst defensive night for the Terps. By offensive rating, he's having the worst season of his career, but his last three games have been far better than the three before that.

"Is Evan where he wants to be or where we need him to be? No, he's not," Turgeon said. "But he's getting closer."

What's behind Trimble's free throw shortage?

Through the first two months of the season, almost no one got to the foul line more than the freshman Trimble. But since January 3, something has clearly changed. After taking 13 foul shots against Minnesota that afternoon, Trimble was averaging about eight free throw attempts per game. In the five Maryland games since, Trimble has taken 18 total foul shots – just over three per game. For a free throw-minded driver like Trimble, that's significant.

On Saturday, a reporter asked Turgeon what has caused Trimble's shortage of foul shots. Here was the exchange:

Question: "Are teams defending Melo differently, or are the refs calling it differently than they called it earlier in the year?"

Turgeon: "I think they're defending him the same. Does that make sense?"

Expanding later on, Turgeon said he expected Trimble to eventually get back to his spot on the stripe with more frequency.

"I think Melo's going to get to the line," Turgeon said. "I think it's picking and choosing, and I think he'll get to the line. I think he'll get to the line probably more at home than he will on the road."