Len’s lay-in provides crucial layer for Terps

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The vibe in Comcast Center throughout
Wednesday night was that Maryland badly needed to beat North Carolina
State. You might even say the Terrapins’ collective backs were against
the wall. 

They were 0-2 in the ACC and trailing by a point ready
to inbound the ball near midcourt with 5 seconds left on a night when
scoring was at a premium. Surely they were headed to a dreaded 0-3 start
while taking residence in a huge, deep hole not consistent with most
teams darting toward NCAA Tournament inclusion.

Call it a pass or
shot, it doesn’t really matter much at this point, because when junior
point guard Pe’Shon Howard’s runner from just outside the left side of
the lane appeared to fall short of the rim with the clock winding down,
the Terps were a certain goner. Or so it seemed for a split second. 

Yet,
7-foot-1 Alex Len then made the play of the season so far in the ACC by
grabbing the errant shot and immediately dropping it through the
cylinder to give the Terps a one-point lead with .9 seconds left. NC
State failed to officially get a shot off and Maryland earned a crucial
victory that could have changed the direction of its season. 

“You
have to be good and you have to be lucky,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon
said after the game. “We were pretty lucky at the end to get the win.”

While
many of Maryland’s students stormed the floor celebrating the thrilling
victory, many others quickly debated Howard’s intent. The topic was not
lost on the media, either. Was it really a shot? That a runner would
fall that short of the rim in a highly-contested situation isn’t much of
a surprise, especially in a game such as Wednesday’s. The teams gritted
out that game from basically the opening tip.

Maryland did jump
out to a 10-0 lead while the No. 14 Wolfpack — perhaps dealing with a
bit of a hangover after knocking Duke from its No. 1 ranking four days
earlier — failed to score on their first 11 possessions. And while NC
State eventually got going, it was never easy for the Wolfpack. In fact,
they entered as the nation’s leading field-goal percentage team
converting better than 52 percent of their shots but made just 31.1
percent against the Terps. 

As for Howard’s miss, maybe Len
revealed something the official scorer wasn’t thinking. Howard was
charged with a shot attempt, and while Len wasn’t really sure, he gladly
spoke for Howard.

“Pe’Shon says it wasn’t a miss, it was a
pass,” Len said. “The play was for Logan (Aronhalt), but Pe’Shon was
driving it. He said it was a pass. I don’t know what it was, I just
tipped it in.”

The delicious irony of the situation is seated
about 25 feet from the play in the front row of press row was Dereck
Whittenburg, who was serving as an NBA scout. Many pundits and fans
still say he shot the greatest air ball in basketball history, and
others side with Whittenburg, who still claims, albeit half-jokingly,
his 35-foot shot that fell short of the rim but was grabbed and slammed
home by Lorenzo Charles to give NC State the 1983 national championship
was really a pass. 

This time NC State was victimized. And while
Len’s put-back won’t go down in hoops annals anywhere outside of College
Park, unlike Whittenburg’s and Charles’ famous moment, it does carry
significant meaning for the Terrapins. 

A loss and they’d be at
0-3 in the ACC and 13-4 overall against a largely soft nonconference
schedule heading to hungry North Carolina this weekend. The Terrapins
have won at the Dean Dome before, but it’s not a place anyone goes to
get well. So at least now, Len’s put back has given the Terps a tad bit
of wiggle room. It also has given Turgeon’s team a needed win over a
high-profile team.

NC State may be the best team in the ACC and
will finish with an RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) in the top-25, so
this victory for Maryland could go a long way in getting it into the
NCAA Tournament. 

“It’s a great feeling,” said Terps’ freshman
guard Seth Allen. “All week, coach talked about making a mark in
history. He’s always stressed that it takes hard work. I think we worked
hard and got a great win.”

Historical in its own way, yes. 

A crucial layer to the season, even more so.