Even without prior scouting or film work, it would take opponents mere seconds to determine the Maryland basketball team’s offensive focal point. He stands 7-foot-1, runs the floor with the Terrapins guards and can hit a 16-foot jumper with ease.
So it’s no secret that Maryland wants to operate through Alex Len, basing its motion offense on inside-out principles, securing post-entry passes on the block then cutting and screening up high.
But as long as Len continues to put numbers (14.4 points, 8.8 rebounds per game) and display the athleticism that has scouts raving and Terrapins fans worrying about his soaring NBA potential, opposing teams defend him exactly like Stony Brook did in the second half Friday.
Len tied for a game-high 19 points and shot 8 of 14 from the field, but he didn’t make a field goal off a post-entry pass in the game’s final 18 minutes as the Seawolves began aggressively fronting him with Eric McAlister, doubling from the weakside if Maryland tried to lob a pass over the top.
The Terps weren’t exactly more or less efficient with post-entry passes in the second half than they were in the opening 20 minutes. Just 30 percent of Maryland’s possessions included a successful post-entry pass, but those were pretty balanced across the game (10 in the first half, nine in the second). The points-per-possession was also fairly similar (1.37 on possessions with a post-entry pass; 1.1 without).
“When they’re doubling me, [Coach Mark Turgeon] told me to look for open guys,” Len said. “If they’re not, just go right for my move. We’re just playing motion, trying to get the ball inside, if not inside-out.”
After Len virtually threw the basketball into the hoop for an and-one at the 18:12 mark, the Terps scored on just two of six possessions with a post-entry pass: James Padgett missed a left-handed hook; Len got mugged by three Stony Brook defenders and was whistled for a jump ball; Padgett made a left-handed hook; three post-entry passes turned into a Pe’Shon Howard turnover; Len went to the free-throw line; and Len made a bad pass.
“They made some adjustments,” Turgeon said. “They fronted Alex. We had a couple opportunities to give him the ball, some over-the-top stuff, but guys didn’t read it well. They got really physical, we got to the rim a couple times and didn’t finish. If you could have stemmed the tide with a three-point play, kept it at 13, 14, 15, we’d be good.”
But Stony Brook clawed back from a 20-point second-half deficit, chopping the lead to as little as two points late in the game before free throws clinched Maryland’s 10th straight victory.
Especially as the Terps enter ACC play, Len can expect constant double teams unless his fellow post players provide offensive consistency at the power forward position. Charles Mitchell played just 11 minutes and went 2 for 3 from the field, making a nifty spin move and jump hook from the right side in the first half, while James Padgett was 2 for 4 in 23 minutes.
“They have to play better,” Turgeon said. “Charles started well, was 2 for 3 at halftime, then didn’t get a chance in the second half. That’s not his fault. He’s worked hard. James just didn’t play well, to be honest with you. Made one shot, wasn’t good defensively. He’s got to play better. Someone’s got to step up. Our 4 man, which tonight was Padgett and Charles, they weren’t very good, quite frankly.”
If Len gets denied post entry on the initial look, Maryland’s guards try to whip the ball around the perimeter and enter what Howard called the offense’s “second side to every play.”
“If [Len’s] the first side,” Howard said, “We’ll swing the ball really quickly, hopefully we can get the other 4 man in a situation where he can get a deep post, or the other guard can make a play. It’s really just switching the ball.”
The key, then, is to trust the system and not force unnecessary passes into Len, like the Terps did twice in the second half. During one episode of the all-access show “Inside Maryland Basketball,” Turgeon called post-entry passing “a lost art.”
“Coach Turge, he has a great mind,” Howard said. “They have their meetings, they break down every situation. I really think they’re prepared for any situation that might ever happen in basketball. They’re ready.”