There may come a time this season when James Padgett’s minutes decline, when freshmen Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare adjust to the speed of college basketball enough to justify more playing time over Maryland’s senior captain. After all, Mitchell and Cleare represent the future.
But like point guard Pe’Shon Howard, who silenced calls for a lineup change in favor of freshman Seth Allen with a 13-assist performance last Friday against LIU-Brooklyn, Padgett also has proved himself a rock in Maryland’s starting lineup, capable of playing big minutes from the outset and filling in when necessary down the stretch.
Little about Padgett’s game is flashy. He can rise above the rim for dunks and at times flashes a nifty baby hook, but the majority of his contributions come in the trenches through grunt work. He had two and-ones on Tuesday against Lafayette, using his bulked-up frame to absorb contact and finish strong. Last season, Padgett shot just 56.4 percent from the free throw line. Through four games this season, he’s at 80 percent.
“James was good tonight,” Coach Mark Turgeon said after Maryland’s 83-74 win over the Leopards. “I didn’t play him the last eight minutes because we found rhythm. I thought Charles played better than he’s played. James finished, made his free throws, played smart defensively. He’s important. He’s the one senior who’s playing a lot. I think he’s playing with poise. He’s talking, and defensively I have a lot of confidence in him.”
When opposing defenses key on 7-foot-1 center Alex Len, doubling down on Maryland’s biggest offensive threat, they leave the weak side vulnerable. Len has proved himself an adept passer over the top, finding shooters on skip passes, but it’s the Terps’ other post players who have thrived. Padgett shot 6 of 7 against the Leopards, mostly on easy dunks and layups.
“We like to play inside-out,” swingman Dez Wells said. “We have really good big men, so we like to get it to them first. The guards, we can create our own shots, but we have to work through them because they carry us throughout the game. We do whatever we can to get those guys involved.”
Game-planning against Len means daring Padgett, Mitchell and Cleare to beat them inside, a challenge Padgett has wholly accepted through four games.
“It’s opportunity to help the development of the play,” Nick Faust said. “If they double down on Alex, we cut middle and it opens up the wing. It opens up everything for our bigs and for our guards. Most games he’s going to get doubled. That’s something we expect and game-plan on.”
Averaging just 18.3 minutes per game, sixth on the team, Padgett is tied for second with 10.5 points per game and is shooting a blistering .625 from the field. He’s been consistent over full games – 52 percent of Padgett’s points have come in the first half – despite not playing the final eight minutes against Lafayette, the final six minutes against LIU-Brooklyn and the final 8 minutes 28 seconds against Morehead State.
Padgett struggled at times defensively against a smaller, quicker Lafayette lineup, getting too comfortable in the paint then rushing late to square-up shooters. But he likely won’t be asked to do that much more this season. Padgett’s forte is in the paint, eating up minutes, taking high-percentage shots, providing solid leadership and consistency in the starting lineup.