There were a lot of positives to take out of what was a devastating loss for the Terps.
Dez Wells looked like a future NBA player with his pull-up jumpers and breathtaking drives to the basket that led to a team-high 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting. His mid-range game is rare these days, but Wells even hit something that is rare for him – a 3-point shot that gave the Terps a late lead.
Maryland ran its offense the way it was designed, particularly in the second half, as Turgeon had his guards mostly walk the ball up the court to keep the turnovers to a minimum. After committing 12 turnovers in the first half, the Terps only had four in the second half.
The bench – depleted by the absence of junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard, who was back in College Park with the flu – gave the Terps a huge lift. Sophomore point guard Nick Faust, who was benched in favor of Seth Allen, had a big 4-point play to help Maryland’s second-half run. Senior guard Logan Aronhalt (11 points) would have been one of the heroes had Maryland won, and both freshman forward Charles Mitchell (10 points) and senior James Padgett (6) provided offense on a night when Alex Len (4 points) did not.
But the Terps still lost by sending the Seminoles to the free throw line 31 times (Florida State made 24) and not being able to hit some big free throws of their own, including three in a row at one point by Faust. They lost because Wells lost Florida State guard Michael Snaer through a maze of double screens – and if you listen to Wells – moving picks.
“They got away with a couple of illegal screens, but that happens and you have play through them,” Wells said. “He made a good shot.”
Asked if he thought, as Turgeon did, that the Terps executed their offense better than they have for most of the season, Wells said, “You can say all that, but if you don’t win, it really doesn’t matter.”
Where was Len?
Len began his sophomore season with a breakthrough performance against defending national champion and then No. 3 Kentucky in Brooklyn, N.Y. Playing against freshman Nerlens Noel, one of the nation’s top recruits a year ago, Len finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
He followed up with several solid performances, scoring in double figures in nine of the next 10 games. He recently had another stretch of six straight double-figure scoring games before disappearing in the second half last Saturday at Duke.
Then came last night, when he played just nine minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, and picked up his third a little more than a minute into the second half. Except for two straight baskets that helped the Terps build an 8-point lead in the second half, Len was invisible in 17 minutes.
If anything, he stood out because he looked like another tall, gawky player no better than Florida State 7-footer Boris Bojanovsky, who actually outplayed and outscored Len Wednesday night. I hope for Len’s sake there weren’t too many NBA scouts in attendance, though I did recognize a few.
Everyone in College Park, including Turgeon, believes Len will be leaving for the NBA after this season. A veteran NBA scout whose opinion I trust told me recently that Len will be a lottery pick in what many consider to be a very weak draft. He also told me Len wasn’t ready.
“Not many of them are,” the scout said.
Smith left Maryland after his sophomore year when he was national player of the year and the No. 1 pick in the draft. Wilcox left Maryland after his sophomore year when the Terps won the NCAA championship in 2002. Williams left after his sophomore year when the Terps didn’t even make it to a tournament.
The Terps are not going to win an NCAA title and Len is not going to be the No. 1 pick.
Len is nowhere as developed as any of them.
Smith had a few good years in Golden State, where he lived up to his No. 1 pick status, then settled into a long and not-so-illustrious career as a journeyman who played third, fourth and 10th-fiddle to an array of NBA stars such as Kevin Garnett (in Minnesota), LeBron James (in Cleveland) and even Kobe Bryant (where Smith finished out his career in Los Angeles).
Wilcox has been strictly a journeyman after being a lottery pick by the Los Angeles Clippers. Williams, after being picked in the second round by the New Jersey Nets and traded to Atlanta before his rookie year ended, is out of the NBA the last I looked.
The 7-1 Len is very athletic running up and down the court, but his mobility comes to a screeching halt when he gets close to the basket. He has very few low-post moves – when did they stop teaching the drop-step? – and has had his shot blocked a lot for a player that tall.
Former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg told me before the ACC season started that Len could be a “difference maker” between the Terps being a middle-of-the-pack pretender and a contender. Right now, he is making a difference – but not necessarily in a good way.
Was Howard’s absence good for the Terps?
It’s interesting that Maryland’s offense executed better than it had in a long time, certainly better than it had for most of the ACC season, without Howard on the court. Howard, who according to Turgeon stayed behind in College Park because of the flu, has struggled mightily the past few weeks.
After Allen, who Turgeon said was also under the weather, gave way to Faust and Wells, the Terps offense ran effectively in the second half. There was not as much dribbling at the point, which Howard seems to do in excess.
It was apparent to anyone who has watched the Terps struggle to score that Howard’s absence contributed to the team scoring at least 65 points for the first time since they put up 94 in an ACC-season opening game win over Virginia Tech back on Jan. 5.
A large part of Maryland’s inability to close teams out is the fact that the Terps don’t get to the free throw line a lot late in games, and when they do, they miss with frightening frequency. It happened again against the Seminoles.
Since starting the ACC season by hitting 22 of 28 free throws against the Hokies, who were 17 of 24, Maryland has been to the line 100 times in the past seven games. The Terps have made 67. Their opponents have gone to the 131 times and converted 79 times.
Though that’s 10 percent worse than Maryland, the overall differential has cost the Terps, particularly in the losses to Florida State.
That’s the difference between being 5-3 in the ACC and in great shape going into the second half of the conference season after Saturday’s home game against Wake Forest, or 3-5 and scrapping to stay in any discussion about postseason bids.
Turgeon had better make sure his players can put this tough loss behind them before they take on Wake Forest (10-10, 3-5 in the ACC) Saturday at Comcast Center. The Deacons have not been a particularly good road team, but they have beaten North Carolina State at home and lost by only five Wednesday night at home to Duke.
The Terps didn’t respond that well the last time they lost a close game to Florida State, coming out flat offensively on the road at Miami. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd they get in College Park given the way the season is going for Maryland (16-5, 3-5) and the team the Terps will be playing. They will need all the support they can get after their toughest loss of the season.