Pregame notes: Shaquille Cleare enjoying life as a bully down low

January 30, 2013
(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Duke forward Mason Plumlee probably isn’t used to meeting resistance in the post. He catches a pass, gets low and backs down his opponent. Maybe he spins, maybe he simply relies on brute strength. Either way, resisting the national player of the year candidate has proved a challenge for numerous forwards and centers this season.

So how did Plumlee react during the first half Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when he lowered his shoulder against Maryland’s Shaquille Cleare, but earned little more than whiplash?

“I can’t tell you what he said,” Cleare said. “But he was like, ‘Oh.’ ”

The fun-loving freshman big man takes particular joy in gauging an opponent’s reaction when back-down attempts are met with a brick wall. Plumlee eventually got the last laugh, finishing with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting in an 84-64 Duke win. Cleare, meanwhile, fouled Amile Jefferson twice before halftime and never recovered.

“I was a little frustrated with myself because I got in foul trouble early, and I felt bad because I couldn’t help my team on the bench. I just walled him up. He had problems scoring on me. When I got in foul trouble, I think it changed the game. Alex [Len] was exhausted, he had to guard a lot of different forwards, but I couldn’t go in because of foul trouble. I just want to stay out of foul trouble, play more, figure I can help my team once I’m on the floor.

But the freshman stood toe-to-toe with Plumlee in the first half and mostly stymied the senior forward. Plumlee entered intermission with as many assists as field goal attempts (three), forced to pass out of post-up opportunities because Cleare simply wasn’t giving any ground.

“I don’t think he could have scored on me. I think he had problems scoring on me a lot. I like it. I like the man-to-man game, I like physical play,” Cleare said. “I think that’s going to be one of the most physical players I’ll play against in the ACC. I think it was a good matchup. I finally met someone who almost matched me. I think it’s a great experience. I’m excited to play them again.”

Though his statistics don’t reflect an increased role, Cleare has started three of Maryland’s past four games, and has earned Turgeon’s trust in that role. Among Maryland’s 10 regulars, Cleare ranks last in field goal attempts (63), ninth in minutes per game (13.9), ninth in points per game (4.6) and first in fouls per 40 minutes (5.34) this season. But he’s also the only Terp shooting better than 60 percent from the field, and has proven himself a capable ACC low-post defender.

Turgeon has consistently held Cleare as the paradigm of his desired work ethic, lauding the freshman’s intensity and focus. While Cleare’s classmates have all been benched at separate times for disciplinary issues, Turgeon referenced Cleare as someone who typically avoids those situations.

“A guy like Shaq is on time, he’s early, stays after,” Turgeon said. “Shaq comes late one time I’m probably not going to do that with him. But there’s certain guys on our team that just haven’t been as mature as they need to be.”

>> The latest disciplinary issue came when freshman guard Seth Allen sat for the first half against Duke after arriving late to a team meeting. Turgeon expanded on the situation, downplaying its severity.

“I think if it would have been Seth’s first mistake, we wouldn’t have done that,” Turgeon said. “Sitting out the first half, CBS sports, at Duke, I think that’s going to teach you a lesson. He was great in practice yesterday. It’s all part of it.

“It’s all part of the process. Do I think it’s a big deal? Yes and no. I’m disappointed that Seth was late, but it’s part of college basketball and team sports. To me, you sit him. He played 10 minutes, you move on.”

Whether this can be interpreted as Turgeon demonstrating an increased desire for discipline or a decreasing sense of patience is up for debate. But he seems content with doling out small punishments where necessary and then burying the hatchet, lesson learned.

“We’re getting there,” Turgeon said of his team’s immaturity. “Is it where it needs to be? No. We’re still playing four freshmen and three sophomores a lot. Are they better today than they were a month ago? Yes, absolutely. It’s not that big a deal. Late for a meeting. We’ve all been late, haven’t we?”

>> Len silenced the Cameron Crazies when he threw down this nasty two-handed reverse baseline dunk against Duke, earning an appearance on “SportsCenter” as the day’s No. 3 top play.

You can always count on Len to place things in the simplest terms. Drive baseline so you can posterize Plumlee. Ho-hum. How pedestrian.

Len said he didn’t see “SportsCenter,” but his friends told him he made the show. If he did, he would have seen this as the top play.

MUCH, MUCH MORE

Maryland vs. Florida State: previewing the game.

Recapping the first Maryland-FSU matchup.

Turgeon still tempering expectations.

Terps still trying to become road warriors.

Young Terps still learning to trust one another.

– POLL TIME! Who ya got, Maryland or Florida State?

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · January 30, 2013