There was one shot, maybe two, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon might have preferred Alex Len refrain from taking in Friday’s season opener.
Chances are, Turgeon and the Terrapins will happily live with that issue if Len plays at anywhere near the level he did in the 72-69 loss to Kentucky.
Len had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks as he opened his sophomore season in scintillating fashion, the best player on the floor in a game in which Maryland (0-1) faced the defending national champion Wildcats, who reloaded with oodles of talent — just not as much as they possessed last year.
“I think he had an exceptional game,” Turgeon said. “It was a little more than we anticipated to be honest. He was good. He did a lot of things really well. He played with energy, blocked shots, rebounded and, of course, scored the ball.”
Now comes the matter of steadily producing for the Terps, who play host to Morehead State (1-0) in its home opener at Comcast Center on Monday night.
It probably isn’t realistic for anyone to churn out duplicates of Len’s stat line, a feat made more impressive since it came against hyped Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel. But there is little question Maryland intends to play through the 7-foot-1 center as the season unfolds.
It’s a far different year for Len, who arrived in College Park last year just as fall semester classes started, was ensnared in an NCAA eligibility issue that first cost him practice time and then 10 games and finally made his debut just before New Year’s.
After some promising games, Len was shoved around at times in conference play and went on to average 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds. The demands were clear: Len needed to add muscle, and he did so in the offseason.
It couldn’t have been more obvious than it was Friday, when he mixed in some moves around the basket with the occasional shot from outside the paint. Strong and skilled, unsurprisingly, is a good way to go through life as a college basketball player.
“I feel much more comfortable,” Len said. “I got stronger over the summer, and so I worked really hard and put on some weight and it helped me.”
There also was time for Maryland to build around Len, to add pieces who would only complement his talents. With four freshmen and two transfers in Friday’s 10-man rotation, the Terps offered substantially different looks than they did a year ago. And that means more options.
There will be temptation to double Len and, at the very least, make it difficult to funnel the ball into the paint. When he gets it, though, Len showed he was more than capable of scoring against even a big front line.
“I knew he had a high ceiling, and as time went along and he got his confidence in and [became] comfortable with the American coaches, I think it made the game a lot easier for him,” forward James Padgett said.
The same is true for Maryland, which figured Len would take a substantial step in his second season after a relatively calm stretch since last season ended.
The early fruits of that progress, it turns out, was a promising opener Len and the Terps can build on in the months to come.
“This game helped us and I think it’s going to help us down the stretch against ACC competition,” Len said. “It was great for us.”
Notes: Maryland has won 35 consecutive home openers. The Terps’ last loss in a home opener was against Notre Dame in 1976. … Monday’s meeting is Maryland’s first ever with Morehead State.