One spot remains malleable in the Maryland men’s basketball team’s starting lineup through two games. Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Nick Faust and Evan Smotrycz have locked down their positions, but change at the center spot may be coming soon.
Charles Mitchell continued to build his case during Wednesday night’s 67-44 win over Abilene Christian. He notched his first double-double of the season and fourth of his career, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. When the listless Terrapins needed to stay afloat during the first half, Mitchell pumped up the life raft and lifted everyone aboard.
Meanwhile, starting center Shaquille Cleare continued to lag behind his roommate and close friend. Cleare played just 13 minutes, committed two fouls and had three turnovers, and scored one point. Back spasms hampered the sophomore this summer, so perhaps the setbacks have left Cleare playing catch-up.
Asked about Cleare’s struggles, Coach Mark Turgeon began to stammer.
“I … that’s a big question,” he said. “How much time did Shaq get today? Not a lot. He got in foul trouble. He was trying to hustle on his second foul, he jumped on the guy, he was trying to compete. Guys didn’t do a good job getting him the ball. Second half I thought he gave us better minutes.”
Heading into Sunday’s game against Oregon State, Turgeon is faced with deciding how to best fill that final starting position. Bringing Mitchell off the bench may satisfy both parties. Turgeon hinted at a confidence issue with Cleare, while minutes earlier praising Mitchell for his indifference to starting. This way, Maryland could continue to support Cleare’s progress with the first unit while still getting Mitchell’s energy in a reserve role. Of course, what good is starting Cleare for confidence reasons if he will play less than 10 minutes per half anyway?
“Shaq’s going to be good, guys,” Turgeon said, a familiar plea issued over the past year. “He’s a good player. He didn’t play a lot last year and Shaq’s really hard on himself. He’s got to lighten up a little bit on himself and just be confident and play well.”
When Mitchell replaced Cleare four minutes into the first half, he almost instantly committed a turnover on a bad pass. Then, against a Wildcats front court rotating just two players taller than 6 feet 5, Mitchell took over. By intermission, he had grabbed seven rebounds – two offensive – and scored eight points, enough to justify his presence in the starting lineup at the start of the second half.
On Turgeon’s teams, second-half starters often reveal more about the coach’s mind-set than the actual starters do. That Mitchell’s energetic pace bridged halftime, despite playing just 23 minutes, will make Turgeon reconsider things as Oregon State looms on Sunday.
“Well, he started the second half, didn’t he?” Turgeon said of Mitchell. “Yeah, so he’s close. Charles didn’t practice the way I wanted him to practice this week, or he probably would have started. If he can practice well between now and Sunday we’ll see. We’ll see if that happens. He doesn’t care. I know everyone else does but he doesn’t. That’s why I like Charles.”