WINSTON-SALEM — Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum was rocking as Wake Forest celebrated Senior Day and the retirement of NBA All-Star Chris Paul’s No. 3 jersey.
But Raleigh native Dez Wells decided to spoil the mood, scoring a game-high 23 points as Maryland pulled away late in the second half Saturday to pick up a key 67-57 ACC win against Wake Forest.
The Terrapins (20-9, 8-8) not only gave coach Mark Turgeon his first 20-win season since taking over two years ago, but they might have strengthened their hand toward earning a wild-card NCAA tournament berth.
Maryland has a pair of wins over Top 25 teams – beating N.C. State and Duke – but losses to Florida State, Boston College and Georgia Tech over the last month had put the Terrapins on the NCAA bubble.
“We haven’t caught a lot of breaks this year,” Turgeon said. “We have been one game under .500 to one game over .500 all year in this league. If we had any chance of trying to be .500, we had to win this game. I was leery, but we used it as motivation, and our guys competed.”
C.J. Harris, the Deacons’ lone senior starter, had 19 points and freshman Devin Thomas added 17 for Wake Forest (12-16, 5-11), which has now lost two straight since its upset win against Miami last week, which at the time was ranked No. 2 in the nation.
“We’re disappointed in the fact that we didn’t play better,” Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Both teams played their tails off. We just needed to play better.”
Wells made 11 of 12 field goals – all of those coming on layups or dunks – to key a Terrapins offense that had a 46-18 advantage in points scored in the paint.
“It wasn’t all their bigs,” Harris said. “They were getting a lot of dribble drives, and those fast-break points were huge.
“But we settled in and stuck with them. They made some runs, but we pushed back as well.”
While the Deacons shot just 26.1 percent in the first half and 32.7 percent (16 of 49) overall, they managed to stay close for most of the game, with 14 lead changes and six ties.
Wake Forest last held the lead at 41-39 on Tyler Cavanaugh’s 3-pointer with 11 minutes, 23 seconds left in the second half, only to see the Terrapins respond with eight unanswered points to pull ahead for good.
The Deacons did make a late run, cutting Maryland’s lead to 61-57 with 2:58 left on a pair of Harris free throws. A tie-up tussle near midcourt between Thomas and Maryland’s Alex Len put the ball back in Wake Forest’s hands 40 seconds later.
However, Travis McKie missed a 3-pointer, and the Terrapins reeled off six straight points to close out the game.
“We didn’t come out to play,” said McKie, who was held to seven points, half his season average (14.2). “That was our job, and we didn’t do it and they won.”