Maryland-Wake Forest pregame notes: The high-wire act of Terps forward Charles Mitchell


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More than one month ago, the Maryland men’s basketball team was crushing Georgia Tech at home and Coach Mark Turgeon asked his players to stop throwing the ball inside. Every post-entry pass to forward Charles Mitchell, it seemed, was gobbled up and immediately turned into a shot. Because the Terrapins were leading by close to 20 points, Turgeon didn’t mind as much. But the plea still fell on deaf ears.

“I was begging our guys to quit throwing him the ball and they kept throwing it to him,” Turgeon said Monday. “He’s got to be more efficient.”

That afternoon demonstrated Mitchell at his most detrimental, when he made 3 of 11 from the field and became an offensive black hole. Contrast that with Saturday, when the sophomore dominated Duke and carried Maryland through a first half in which leading scorer Dez Wells was a non-entity. And really, there isn’t much difference between the two.

“Charles is actually a good passer, but it was a lot of one-on-one down there the other night,” Turgeon said. “I thought he made some pretty good decisions in that game, just missed a couple he normally makes.”

With five games left in the regular season, Mitchell has left little doubt that he is Maryland’s best low-post scoring option. In eight of 26 games, Mitchell has reached double-digit scoring. Shaq Cleare, Jon Graham and Damonte Dodd have combined for one. But that can come at a price.

Often, post-entry passes to Mitchell aren’t coming back out. His capabilities were on full display at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where he finished with 12 points, his most during ACC play. But he at times can fall victim to tunnel vision, bent on only making shots rather than surveying the landscape and looking for the open man – or even passing out and re-posting for better position.

Few opposing big men can block Mitchell’s trademark hook shot, despite his often undersize presence in the paint. And his accuracy has improved as the season has progressed; on two-point jumpers, Mitchell is now shooting better than 40 percent.

“When he’s playing well, we play much better,” guard Nick Faust said. “He gives us a great post presence, so having that makes it a lot easier for the guys outside.”

Said Jake Layman: “Charles is a great player. When things are falling for him, he’s really effective on the court. He uses his body well and he’s able to get around defenders. When Charles is playing well, the team is doing really well, too.”

>> Today’s print story didn’t explore this, but seeing Turgeon approach the end of the Maryland bench during a rout is one of the best feelings for the team’s walk-ons.

“Around halftime, when we’re winning, we get this bubbly feeling in our stomach,” guard Jake Susskind said. “A little nervous. When time gets closer and closer it’s more nerve-racking. I don’t really care anymore. Either I play or I won’t. Pretty much all the other walk-ons still get a little nervous. I’ll tighten up my laces around the eight-minute mark when we’re up by a lot. When he calls your name you’re a little nervous. But once you get in you’re playing basketball. It’s what you’ve done your whole life. Once you get in, it’s fun after that.”

>> While on the subject of Susskind, I asked him about the hashtag #Susskindtime, which one of his friends from high school started. This is often employed in late-game moments whenever Susskind appears, which are rare. In nearly three seasons at Maryland, Susskind has played in only 18 games.

“It’s good. I’m glad my friends started that,” Susskind said. “Everyone loves it. When we’re blowing the other team out, everyone’s just rooting for me. I remember all my friends watching the Virginia Tech game, they told me when the shot went up everyone was holding each other back.”

>> Freshman Roddy Peters hasn’t played more than 10 minutes in any game this month and hasn’t topped five over the past three games, but Turgeon raved about his intangible improvements during practice.

“Roddy’s playing time has gone down, but his coachability has gone way up,” Turgeon said. “His minutes in the second half [against Duke] were the best minutes he’s played all year, maybe take away the GW game when he took over when we were pressing. Today was one of his best practices of the year, so he’s listening to the coach, and it’s made him a better player, which therefore is going to get him on the court a little bit more.”

>> Confidence isn’t wavering in College Park. Asked whether he still thought Maryland could make the NCAA tournament, Faust said, “We definitely feel that way.”

So what, then, must be done for a team that’s below .500 in league play, two games above .500 overall, has zero top 50 RPI wins and only two top 100 RPI wins?

“We just got to try to win our next five games,” Faust said.

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