After a game when his Maryland basketball team suffered its worst loss all season and allowed its most points since March 9, 2012, Coach Mark Turgeon had little trouble uncovering the silver lining. The focus, as it typically is these days, was on top-ranked Duke, which rebounded from a crushing loss to Miami earlier in the week by bludgeoning the Terrapins. Blue Devils freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson broke out, and Mason Plumlee was his usual self.
But Turgeon found plenty of bright spots, ways to build his team’s confidence and look ahead to a plainly easier ACC slate in February. Maryland played well for 25 minutes at hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the young players didn’t commit as many rattled turnovers characteristic of their losses at Miami and North Carolina. Arguably the biggest positive came via Charles Mitchell, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. The freshman forward shot 5 for 8 from the field and made 3 of 4 free throws, even as the Cameron Crazies serenaded him with chants of “Please don’t eat me.”
Mitchell feasted plenty. He and Dez Wells (four offensive rebounds) were a big reason why the Terrapins snatched 57 percent of their misses by halftime, and still trailed by just eight without Seth Allen. After first entering with 14:31 left, Mitchell immediately drained a baby hook, then on Maryland’s ensuing possession snatched two offensive rebounds, including one off his own miss, and stuck another layup.
Mitchell’s worst stretch of the game followed, with two fouls and a turnover in a one-minute span, but he — ahem — rebounded. Once again, as the first half wound down, Mitchell grabbed a teammate’s miss, missed his own layup, then tipped in that rebound. On Mitchell’s one missed field goal that he didn’t grab, Alex Len turned it into a put-back layup. Twice, Mitchell turned an offensive rebound into free throws.
Mitchell continues to be one of the ACC’s most productive and efficient rebounders, ranking second in offensive rebound percentage (16.0) and fifth in defensive rebound percentage (23.0) despite playing just 16.5 minutes per game.
“Offensively I’ve been pleased,” Turgeon said. “Charles is not scared of any environment. He just goes in and plays. Offensively I was really pleased. He’s just got so far to go defensively to get where we want to be. He had a good game. Hopefully he can grow from it.”
Mitchell was predictably hard on himself after the game, criticizing his ball-screen defense, which allowed Duke’s guards to find open shots along the perimeter. His post moves, especially that twinkle-toes spin that catches so many opponents off guard, seem more under control lately, but Mitchell shrugged off the idea he was doing anything drastically different.
“It’s just the rebounding and tip-backs,” Mitchell said. “I had a couple moves where it showed where I was getting better, slowed down, focused more on scoring the ball and getting separation on my shots. It’s getting a little better as it’s progressed during the season.”
This backed up a nine-point, 11-rebound performance at North Carolina for Mitchell, who’s received five starts this season. Statistically, however, his most productive outings have been off the bench, including double-doubles against Georgia Southern, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Delaware State.
Consecutive trips to Tobacco Road provided an ample learning opportunity for these young Terps, none more so than Mitchell.
“We can learn a lot from this game,” Mitchell said. “It’s a more constructive game with learning. We learned a lot on the defensive end. I think we weren’t hedging hard. Personally me, I was setting screens longer, so I let my team down with a wide-open shot when I was staying with the guard longer. We can learn a lot from coming out here two times in one week.”
But until his teammates match the production and consistency, Mitchell’s performance will continue to become little more than a shiny gem in otherwise murky waters.