Charles Mitchell stomped his feet like a sumo wrestler and slapped his hands onto the Barclays Center court, so hard that the whack echoed throughout the Brooklyn arena. The sophomore forward’s greatest attribute has always been the surprising energy he brings to the Maryland men’s basketball team, and here was another opportunity for Mitchell to bring that to the fore.
As the Terrapins battled back from a double-digit deficit against No. 19 Connecticut on Friday evening, Mitchell was the primary catalyst. He scored seven points in a seven-possession stretch early into the second half, then another whirling layup chopped the Huskies’ lead to seven with less than six minutes left.
“Charles plays hard,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Charles competes. He was able to stay out of foul trouble. … He’s been practicing really well, so he was pretty good.”
Mitchell spent the offseason on the treadmill and followed a strict diet, shedding pounds and trimming body fat. The belly faded and the conditioning bettered, because what’s vigor without stamina?
“He’s in much better shape,” swingman Dez Wells said. “He works as hard as I’ve ever seen him work. There’s a different commitment to our team this year than it was last year. Everybody’s just all-in. Two feet in, and we’re ready to compete against the best and see where we measure up.”
In the first game of the new season, Mitchell measured up just fine. His three rebounds fell below his freshman-year average (5.4 per game), but on a Terps roster with almost no bench scoring presence, his 12 points provided a welcome boost.
“I feel like my role on this team, I’m an energy player,” Mitchell said. “Coming off the bench, I have to bring energy. I have to bring scoring. I have to bring that mentality. I just love winning, regardless if I score or not.”
Mitchell’s performance juxtaposed another slow start from center Shaquille Cleare, his classmate, roommate and close friend at Maryland. Despite starting and receiving a post touch on the first possession – he missed a right-handed hook shot — Cleare finished with just four points in 19 minutes, just five of which came in the first half.
Since Cleare arrived as a hyped freshman from Texas, the prized recruit of Turgeon’s first class for the Terps, there has been a stark juxtaposition between how the third-year coach talks about Cleare and the center’s on-court production. Last season, he averaged just 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12 minutes per game, but with Alex Len no longer around to man the paint, Maryland needs a productive Cleare to chew up playing time.
“We need more out of Shaq,” Turgeon said. “No doubt about it. We need more out of him. His defense in the second half was better.
“His minutes were much better in the second half. I challenged him at halftime. We need him. I keep saying it, Shaq’s practicing better. He’s practicing better. He didn’t play a lot last year so it was a new stage for him and new minutes and different things. We need him to play better and he will.”
Here Turgeon paused and repeated himself.