Terps’ Charles Mitchell moves on after Duke heartbreak

(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Before games, Maryland forward Charles Mitchell switches his iPhone into “airplane mode,” a ritual that serves a more psychological purpose than practical. The cellphone hides in the locker room, with little possibility of distracting him while the action unfolds, but perhaps simply the thought of blocking calls and text messages offers peace of mind.

Sometimes, when Mitchell does something that demands postgame contact, this practice creates a backlog. And so after the sophomore missed the game-winning shot at Duke on Saturday, he stepped off the plane in Baltimore and found “like 150 text messages and a billion tweets.”

“I was like, ‘Here we go,’ ” Mitchell said.

Messages from close family and friends stood out. His parents, best friend from Atlanta, sister – they all called and offered comforting words. Other anonymous folk weren’t as inspiring, but Mitchell knew deep down that mere centimeters separated himself – and, by consequence, the 2013-14 Terrapins – from legendary status in the Maryland-Duke rivalry.

He had seen the play “10, 12 times,” each occasion watching the basketball fall away then the camera cutting to Mitchell, laying on his back in dejection. Then the play showed up on ESPN so much that he turned off the television. He had made similar big shots plenty of times in high school, when he was the man tasked with handling such moments, so he wasn’t scared of taking center stage. He still wished it would have fallen, but reliving the moment so much also meant moving on.

“Yeah, because it wasn’t Charles’s fault,” Coach Mark Turgeon said when asked if Mitchell had moved past the missed hook shot, which seemed to teeter on the rim for an eternity. “Charles played his tail off in that game. It just happened to roll out instead of rolling in. He can score it. He’s got his jump hook working right now.”

At one point Tuesday night, during a 71-60 victory over Wake Forest, a similar possession happened. Guard Dez Wells inbounded the basketball to the rim’s left, just like he did at Duke. Mitchell stood at the elbow and popped to the short corner, just like he did at Duke. When the pass came into Mitchell, Wells followed it for the handoff, a designed action Maryland often repeats on its inbound sets. But Mitchell, once again, didn’t give up the ball. He wheeled to the rim and lofted a hook shot. This time, it went in.

“After you look at it awhile and you assess what happened, at the end of the day I wanted to win bad, not just for me but for the whole state, the whole rivalry,” he said. “I had to look past because I had to focus on the next five games coming up and try to get every win possible going to the ACC tournament. I couldn’t just dwell on that. I had to come out and play a good game today.”

By many measures, Mitchell did. He had 12 points on 6of-8 shooting, reaching double-digit scoring in consecutive games for the first time since November. He grabbed seven rebounds and committed only two fouls, his first game with less than four since Feb. 1. But Mitchell was also careless at times with five turnovers, drawing them on an array of traveling violations and haphazard, unnecessary dribbles.

Still, the Terps have struggled to receive offensive production from their front court this season, so simply having the threat of Mitchell – his 12 made field goals in a two-game span tied a career high – is an improvement. And despite his overmatched height — he’s listed at 6 feet 8 but is probably shorter than that — Mitchell has proved himself a workhorse on the glass and a tough form to block.

“Chuck’s a tough kid,” classmate Jake Layman said. “He wouldn’t carry something over like that to a game like this. He played great tonight. We expect the same thing for the rest of the year. He works on it every day in practice. He has Shaq [Cleare] and Damonte [Dodd] going against him, so he’s used to bigger and longer guys guarding him. Really anybody any team throws at him, he’s seen it before. He’s really improved at that.”

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