TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Alex Len’s initial impact on Maryland’s basketball fortunes came at both ends of the floor.
With the Terrapins entering conference play, the redshirt freshman’s opportunities on offense gradually became more limited.
Tuesday brought a far more troubling development. Len not only managed little on offense, but he was saddled with foul trouble throughout and was nudged aside from the start in the paint in an 84-70 loss at Florida State.
The 7-foot-1 Len played a season-low 18 minutes after collecting two quick fouls, a development that left the Terps (12-5, 2-2 ACC) little chance to effectively deny the intentions of the physical Seminoles (12-6, 3-1) in the post.
“That was a big difference-maker,” guard Terrell Stoglin said. “If we had him down low, he would have contested a lot of shots they were making.”
And so the external adjustment to Len is, if not complete, then certainly at an intriguing juncture.
Coach Mark Turgeon urged caution as far back as October about the Ukrainian, who the NCAA suspended for the season’s first 10 games in accordance with its amateurism guidelines. Len, the coach said at the time, would be helpful but wouldn’t cure all of Maryland’s woes.
His initial work suggested otherwise. Len averaged 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first four games, though three were against nonconference competition. The past three games have been less fruitful - 2.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest.
The scoring decline partially is a function of the Terps not creating opportunities for Len, but also is an issue Maryland can overcome. What it needs is for Len to create defensive headaches with his size, which simply didn’t occur at Florida State.
“It hurt us defensively because he protects the rim,” Turgeon said. “He only had one play all night where he looked like Alex. It was when the game was out of reach there in the last four minutes, and he plays a shot and goes up and gets a rebound above the rim.”
Maryland has declined all interview requests for Len since he enrolled in August. None of the Terps’ forwards, who collectively struggled against the brawny Seminoles, was made available after Tuesday’s game.
Nonetheless, it was a rough game for Len almost from the start. Florida State collected second-chance baskets on three of its first five possessions, quickly establishing supremacy in the paint. Len sat the final 13:06 of the first half after picking up his second foul, and he didn’t snag a rebound until 3:43 remained in the game.
It was a significant change from only two days earlier, when Len was held scoreless in a defeat of Georgia Tech but clearly made a defensive impact. The Yellow Jackets scored 25 points in the 12 minutes Len was on the bench Sunday - the same total they rolled up in the 28 minutes Len was on the floor.
With foul trouble and ineffectiveness negating Len, it left James Padgett and Ashton Pankey to contend with an imposing Florida State frontcourt led by Bernard James (17 points). The Terps allowed 42 points in the paint, matching the second-largest total Maryland yielded in that category this season.
“Len, he’s long and athletic, but the other two guys were more physical,” James said. “They really didn’t have that shot-blocking presence, but they were still tough inside. It was a battle when he was out. He kind of picked and chose his spots where he wanted to hit and where he wanted to make contact, but the other guys, they were just on it. As soon as the ball crossed halfcourt, they were trying to lay wood on me.”
That doesn’t fit the 225-pound Len’s usual approach, and understandably so given his frame. But for the Terps to fare better in their next road test - Saturday’s trip to Philadelphia to face Temple (11-5 entering Wednesday night’s game against La Salle) at the Palestra - it will require a better defensive performance from its frontcourt, Len included.
“He has to play better,” Turgeon said. “If he’s not going to score, he has to defend and rebound better than he did.”