Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon faced a dilemma Tuesday night that rarely crossed his mind since Big Ten play began. Before the second half, he was unsure whether to play guard Jared Nickens or Dion Wiley. The former is a season-long rotation player, while the latter missed substantial time during conference play with a back injury.
Turgeon’s instinct prompted him to side with Wiley, so at the 14:37 mark, he subbed in the redshirt sophomore for starting guard Kevin Huerter. Eleven seconds later, out of the media timeout, Wiley drilled a long-range jumper for his first points since the team’s conference opener Dec. 27. He later drew a charge in Maryland’s 79-59 road win, capping a promising performance amid an injury-riddled year.
“Dion hasn’t really been able to help us since the Illinois game, which was the first [conference] game of the year. Here we are in game 17 in league play,” Turgeon said. “I’m happy for him because it’s been very frustrating.”
Wiley missed just two nonconference games and started Big Ten play by scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting against the Fighting Illini in 14 minutes. He played four minutes in the Terps’ loss to Nebraska, but his back issues forced him to miss the next four games. Turgeon said the injury flared up after Wiley played two minutes versus Rutgers on Jan. 24, forcing him to miss seven of the next eight contests.
Before Maryland hosted Minnesota on Feb. 22, Turgeon provided further insight into Wiley’s condition. He said the Oxon Hill native added a few pounds, which stemmed from his practicing four to six times since the Illinois game in late December. Turgeon said Wiley felt “great” during a recent workout and practiced leading up to Maryland’s loss to the Golden Gophers, but the sixth-year coach remained skeptical about his possible impact.
“If you know anything about basketball, it’ll be hard for him to probably help us,” Turgeon said Feb. 21. “If our season goes on for a long time and he can stay healthy and practice every day from here, we’ll see.”
Wiley’s return, though, came sooner than his coach led on. He worked out a few times before the Iowa game, so Turgeon played him seven minutes in the home defeat Saturday.
He missed his only shot, but that performance led to another first-half entrance at Rutgers on Tuesday night, when he subbed in about eight minutes in.
“Each rotation he played better tonight,” Turgeon said.
Soon after entering the game for the third time, Wiley added to the Terps’ second-half separation from of the Scarlet Knights.
With guard Anthony Cowan trapped in the right corner, he found forward Ivan Bender, who continued to swing the ball around the perimeter. Wiley received a pass in front of his team’s bench, where he drilled the open look to put Maryland up, 49-34, with about 14 minutes to play. Turgeon expressed his excitement with a double first pump. The rest of the players on the Terps bench were also standing, elated about Wiley’s first bucket in 16 games.
“I feel great for Dion,” Trimble said. “I told him shoot the ball as soon as he catches it. That’s what he’s going to do.”
His other contribution came on the defensive end a few minutes later. Wiley stood in the lane and allowed a driving Mike Williams to barrel over him, which drew an offensive foul call. His teammates rushed to help him off the floor.
On the next possession, Wiley looked to double his scoring output but missed a right wing 3-pointer, his only other shot of the game.
Wiley’s final on-court stint came with under five minutes to play and the game out of reach. He remained on the court until the buzzer sounded, marking the Terps’ 11th conference win but just the second in which he played a sizable role.