UPDATE SATURDAY 3:07 P.M.: Maryland announced Saturday afternoon that Cleare missed Saturday’s practice with lower back spasms and will not start. He is still expected to play, however.
After the Maryland basketball team’s nail-biting, disappointing 65-62 loss to Florida State on Wednesday, Coach Mark Turgeon made a decision. Freshman center Shaquille Cleare had played just eight minutes as he was unable to develop a rhythm against the Seminoles and continued to log bench time despite hard practices and a tireless work ethic.
“I’m starting Shaq,” Turgeon said Friday. “You can print that. That’s not changing. I’m tired of him sitting on the bench. He does everything I ask and he deserves to play.”
Starting Cleare allows Len to play the power forward, something he’s rarely done this season. Maryland has struggled to space the floor offensively this season, something Turgeon hopes to remedy by sticking Cleare inside and drawing Len away from the basket.
“Alex is a good shooter,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully, if they start playing together a lot, we can get Alex spacing the floor. We couldn’t space the floor the other night. They just didn’t guard Charles and didn’t guard James. I’m just trying to figure out how to space the floor a little bit better too, with a lot of the things I’m trying.
“It depends what we’re running. We’re still getting it. As a coaching staff, we had a long meeting yesterday before I went recruiting, had a long meeting today on the floor where we went over a lot of different things. One thing I don’t want to do is confuse Alex, but I might have to confuse him going into Sunday’s game, knowing we’ll be a better team down the road, which is really what matters.”
Cleare is averaging 14.4 minutes per game this season, second fewest among Maryland’s 10 regulars, and logged single-digit minutes against Kentucky, George Mason and Florida State. In limited time, Cleare has put up 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Cleare said. “I’m not going to get too excited or too above myself. I’ll just go out there and do what Turgeon tells me to do. I’ll do all the dirty work like I usually do. You have to always be ready. Even if it’s two minutes before the game, it wouldn’t make a difference to me. But I’m glad he told me now. It’ll motivate me even more in practice.”
Cleare and Len traditionally bully each other during practices, often treating scrimmages like sparring sessions, all in the name of toughening each other up. But they’ve rarely appeared during games together, instead getting substituted for one another at center.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Cleare said. “It’s going to be a good game. Alex at the four and me at the five? It’s going to be kind of scary.”
Turgeon said he made the decision shortly after the Florida State loss, but hadn’t told Cleare yet. Maryland received an off-day and Turgoen went recruiting on Thursday, but returned for two practices Friday.
Dez Wells and Nick Faust will continue to start, Turgeon said, but his point guard slot remains in flux between Pe’Shon Howard, who has started 14 of Maryland’s 15 games this season but turned in arguably his worst effort of the season against Florida State, and Seth Allen, an electric freshman who’s been the Terps’ leading scorer over the past four games.
That battle, Turgeon said, will be decided in practice before Maryland flies into Miami.