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.