After turning in a dominant first half against No. 5 Wisconsin Tuesday night, the No. 14 Terrapins fought off a second-half Badger charge to win, 59-53, before a sellout crowd of 17,950 at Xfinity Center.
Maryland held the Badgers' nation-best offense in check for the first half, but needed closing efforts on offense by Dez Wells and Melo Trimble to finish off a season-defining victory – and a crucial one for a Maryland team that moved to 9-0 in games decided by six points or fewer.
Wells shot in volume all night, but he paced Maryland (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) offensively with a fine 26 points, to go with 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Trimble added 16, including a few crucial shots late. No one else on Maryland reached double figures, but Wells and Trimble ensured they didn't have to.
Maryland's first half was as much of a defensive masterpiece as any team could paint against Wisconsin's world-beating offense. The Badgers scored just 20 points in 20 minutes to start the game, with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker only registering six apiece. Wells scored 14 first-half points for Maryland, and Trimble had 8 to give Maryland's stars a clear edge over Wisconsin's. A Trimble buzzer-beating lay-in sent Maryland to the locker room leading 31-20, with the Badgers having scored .74 points per possession – down from the roughly 1.2 they've averaged this year. Coming off the bench to replace a foul-troubled Damonte Dodd, freshman Michal Cekovsky was crucial in limiting Kaminsky.
The Badgers (25-3, 13-2) shot just 1-of-11 on first-half three-pointers, but the Badgers started to rain them down in the second half. All the while, Kaminsky's game picked up, and Wisconsin came back to tie the game with just less than six minutes left, with a slow drip of incremental dents. Maryland inched ahead by five points by the time the clock showed four minutes. What had looked like a shocking breeze was suddenly set for a neck-and-neck finish.
Wells kept the offensive pressure on Wisconsin, and a Trimble jumper restored Maryland to a late five-point lead after Wisconsin had crept closer again. Maryland's lead was three with a minute to play. A late lay-in by Trimble, coupled with free throws and two Maryland stops, sealed the Terps' best win of the season. Maryland's gold-clad students romped onto the building's hardwood, and Mark Turgeon's team was all the way home.
Three things we learned
1. Maryland's first-half defense was extraordinary. Wisconsin plays at a slow pace, so it doesn't light up the scoreboard even though it's the most efficient offensive team in college basketball. But in the first half, Maryland held Wisconsin to an outrageous 20 points, which would constitute a great defensive effort even if it were against Nebraska, not Bo Ryan's Badgers. A big part of that defensive job was Cekovsky's interior work against Kaminsky, while the Badgers couldn't convert what decent looks they did get. The second half, of course, wasn't nearly as rosy.
2. Dez Wells played the hero. Wells has often ceded the keys to Maryland's offense to Trimble in his senior season, but the Terps' senior leader went ahead and led them on Tuesday. He shot a lot, but Wells kept Maryland's offense afloat by making scores of tough shots throughout the night. He contributed on the glass and as a playmaker, and his impossible-looking dunk to put Maryland ahead by five points with four minutes left was a seminal moment in this Terrapin season.
3. College Park was jumping for basketball again. If Maryland fans were worried about losing out on big-ticket home games by leaving behind Duke, North Carolina and the ACC, Tuesday showed they needn't be. The arena was sold out and filled in nicely after Beltway traffic forced a late-arriving crowd, and Maryland's students were as engaged as they ever were against rivals of conferences past. This was a terrific atmosphere for college basketball, and the game's competition proved worthy of it.