Maryland’s starting lineup has been rigidly consistent through seven games. Open with experience, then allow the young guns to emerge from the bench and provide an electric, if sometimes undisciplined, spark. But with a long nonconference home stretch beginning and ACC play not far around the corner in the next calendar year, Coach Mark Turgeon overhauled his first five for Wednesday night’s 100-68 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Shaquille Cleare was the linchpin of Turgeon’s idea, which he got while driving home Sunday from the Terps’ win over George Mason at Verizon Center. Turgeon has always had an affinity for the Bahamian center, but the highly prized recruit had played more than 20 minutes just once this season, rarely stringing together enough consecutive floor time to truly find a groove in the post.
And so after Tuesday’s practice, Turgeon gathered his team and told them of an impending change. He’d overhaul the lineup for the next two games against UMES and South Carolina State because he wanted to give as many players as possible the starting experience.
He gave them 24 hours to think, then produced a lineup with Cleare, Seth Allen and Jake Layman all earning their first career starts on Wednesday, joining regulars James Padgett and Dez Wells on the Comcast Center floor for the opening tip.
“No one was in trouble,” Turgeon said postgame. “You never know what lies ahead. I want everyone to know what it feels like to start in a game. I’ve never done that before, but I’ve never had a team like this that really likes each other like this team does, and has the depth like this team has. I know there’s no bruised egos because I did that.”
Turgeon’s experiment was a sweeping success. The starters leaped out to an 11-3 lead after a Wells and-one with 17:36 left in the first half, dominating the overmatched Hawks with crisp passes and open looks, running the offense with a newfound efficiency.
Maryland ran away with its largest margin of victory since Feb. 9, 2011. Twelve players scored, including five in double figures and four more with at least seven. Charles Mitchell recorded his second career double-double off the bench with 10 points and 11 rebounds, while Nick Faust had a career-high seven assists.
What followed after the rout was a chorus of “don’t care’s” from various Terrapins, all of whom were far happier to see reserves such as Conner Lipinski and Spencer Barks score in the game’s final minutes than they were to get the starting nod.
“It doesn’t matter” who starts, Mitchell said. “We’re all for each other, we all love each other, we’re all one family, as we say. We don’t care who starts. We’ll all give maximum effort every time we step on the floor.”
Cleare was the focus early, receiving low-block touches on four straight possessions, but Maryland’s balanced attack worked off him well. Padgett scored the game’s first two points on free throws. Cleare then hit a soft, short hook after spinning into the middle, Layman threw down a baseline slam off a Cleare feed and then Cleare stuck a layup in transition.
“Honestly, if I started or not, it didn’t really matter,” Cleare said. “I think I got off to a good start. You just have to keep pushing and listening. I know [Turgeon is] going to get me better, get me to where I need to go. I’m just going to stay humble and keep working hard.”
Turgeon then line-changed in Faust, Pe’Shon Howard, Alex Len, Mitchell and Logan Aronhalt with 13:11 left in the first half, the lead already up to 20-13 before two Aronhalt three-pointers and layups by Faust and Len expanded the lead to 30-13.
With five nonconference home games remaining until the ACC opener on Jan. 5 against Virginia Tech, Turgeon can mix and match at will, figuring out lineups with little consequences, especially given the closeness and chemistry of this team.
“We have quite a home stretch here,” Turgeon said. “We’ve got a long time during this stretch. I didn’t think if I did it, it would affect anything. We have so much time to correct it if it did affect anything.”
At least for one night, it affected nothing.