Mark Turgeon spent New Year’s Eve pondering a lineup change, sleeping on the potential decision before executing it during Maryland’s nonconference finale against IUPUI. And like many anticipated, Charles Mitchell earned his second start this season, hearing his name boomed over the loudspeakers in place of senior forward James Padgett.
Three days prior against Delaware State, Mitchell had posted his best college game, with career highs in both points (19) and rebounds (14), and on Monday was named ACC rookie of the week. But Mitchell struggled to discover any semblance of a groove on New Year’s Day against the Jaguars, finishing with seven points and five rebounds, but only four points and zero rebounds by halftime. The forward missed a hook shot early before being subbed out alongside fellow starters Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust and Alex Len more than five minutes in, watching from the sideline as the Terrapins flipped an 11-point deficit into a comfortable lead.
Mitchell may be the future of Maryland’s post play and is a proven force off the bench, but his limited starting chances have produced mixed results. Albeit in an extremely tiny sample size, Mitchell played just eight minutes against South Carolina State, finishing with two points, two turnovers and two rebounds, though much of that limited playing time can be attributed to facing the Bulldogs’ low-tempo, stall game.
Still, Turgeon has a decision moving forward.
“I don’t know about Charles,” Turgeon said after the IUPUI game. “We’ll see how we practice. I have a lot of practice time ahead of me to see. We know he’s going to play, and play significant minutes.”
>> Alex Len struggled again to establish an offensive rhythm against IUPUI, finishing with nine points and five rebounds, just days after mustering a season-low six points vs. Delaware State. There’s little cause for concern within Comcast Center, however. If anything, the weak nonconference schedule had Len facing smaller post players, unable to really play his post-up game with undersize forwards on his back and guards sagging into his lap.
“Alex hadn’t played well. So quite frankly I’m not going to call a play for him if he’s not going to play well,” Turgeon said. “We ran one for him late and he got fouled. He hasn’t played well. Shaq’s down there swiveling, getting on bodies, we throw it to him and he’s scoring in less or equal minutes. I don’t know, they doubled him some. I’m not concerned about it. I’m really not.”
ACC games provide an opportunity for rejuvenation from Len, who spent an hour after the game working out with director of basketball performance Kyle Tarp, then taking free throws, hook shots and jumpers on the floor.
“It’s matchups. He’s more comfortable playing against the 7-footer at Kentucky or Northwestern,” Pe’Shon Howard said. “He’s doing fine. You’ll see him pick back up in conference play.”
While Len and Tarp worked out on one end, Nick Faust was on the other, taking in his second postgame shooting session of the season, again frustrated at his offensive production. The sophomore was 2 of 5 from the field, finishing with five points, four assists and a season-high five turnovers.
“Nick didn’t have his best game,” Turgeon said. “A lot of turnovers. You know, made a big three. It’s either feast or famine with him. He makes a really nice pass or turns it over. We’ve got to get Nick playing better. I know when it becomes a big game, a possession-by-possession game, Nick’s going to do what’s right. But it wasn’t his best day, obviously.”
Said Howard: “He’s playing pretty well. He’s playing well in practice. Not everyone is going to have a good game. I was kind of off the last game. We all started out slow today. It’s just that one day is not going to be your day and the next will be your day. The game before he played really well and shot really well so he was a little off today. They did the scouting report for him and focused in on him and made sure he couldn’t make any plays. He’ll be fine.”
>> One reporter asked Turgeon an interesting postgame question, a hypothetical that says plenty more about poll dynamics than anything else. If Maryland had beaten Kentucky, the reporter said, the Terps would likely be ranked somewhere around the top 10, undefeated at 13-0 with a marquee win against a team then ranked third in the nation. Crazy as it sounds, given that “receiving votes” is about where Maryland expects to be at this stage with such a soft nonconference schedule, it’s a legitimate thought.
“I’m glad we’re not undefeated. I’m glad we’re not ranked seventh or eighth,” Turgeon said. “We’re not the seventh- or eighth-best team. We don’t deserve to be that high.”
Win a couple ACC games, and a top 25 ranking won’t be far behind. Maryland received five votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls this week. Five tough January games against Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina State and North Carolina could get the Terps over that hump.
But will it matter to them?
“With our coaches? With Coach Turge, if we’re ranked 1 or 100, he’ll let us know how we’re playing,” Pe’Shon Howard said. “If we’re ranked one and playing bad, it wouldn’t matter. If we were ranked 100 and playing good, he’ll let us know. I think with our coaches, we can handle any situation well. I think we’ll have to prove it, for sure. That’s one good thing about it.
“We’ll have a chip on our shoulder going into conference. A lot of people have said we haven’t played anybody. Getting in conference, a lot of people will be watching us and have high expectations. We’re hopefully ready to get on the national stage.”
>> Attendance at Comcast Center was 8,971, second-lowest mark of the season behind the Morehead State game (8,724).