Last season, Maryland forward Charles Mitchell shot an unimpressive 54 percent from the free throw line, failing to make the most of his rare attempts. In 38 games, the then-freshman attempted four free throws just four times, and of the team’s 10 regulars, Mitchell was sixth in free throw attempts. His misses were spread throughout the entire year — 0 for 1 here, 1 for 2 there — and it added up.
But in seven games this season, entering Wednesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup at fifth-ranked Ohio State, Mitchell has attempted a team-high 32 free throws — two more than Dez Wells, eight more than Evan Smotrycz and 19 more than front-court mate Shaquille Cleare. Mitchell has made nine of those, a 28.1 percent rate that’s more than 30 percentage points worse than his field goal percentage.
“I’m not trying to bring it down on myself,” he said. “I work on it every day. I’m not going to make it be a burden on me. I’m just going to keep playing, go out there, give it my all. I can’t let it bring my whole game down.”
Before the Terrapins beat Providence in the Paradise Jam championship, Mitchell took free throws beside close friend Seth Allen. Allen broke his foot during preseason practice but traveled to St. Thomas for the moral support, and no one needed it more than Mitchell at the stripe. On Tuesday, Mitchell spoke as if he had fixed the issue, because dwelling on it only compounds the confidence problem. He said his struggles were “both a mental thing and a flaw” since rectified, though with the way Mitchell draws fouls, he should have plenty of opportunities to prove it. (Ohio State has committed the fewest fouls in the Big Ten this season — 97 — so it might not happen Wednesday night.)
As a team, Maryland ranks 333rd nationally (out of 351 teams) in free throw shooting, and its 60.4 percent mark is the worst of Coach Mark Turgeon’s career. Wells and Jake Layman are both at or over 80 percent, while Smotrycz, Nick Faust and Roddy Peters are all between 64 and 69 percent.
“It’s really two guys,” Turgeon said. “Maybe two and a half guys. They’ve got to step up. Free throw shooting is contagious. The right guys getting fouled at the right time and the wrong guys getting fouled at the wrong time. I have confidence that Dez, Jake, Evan, Roddy, Nick, they’re going to make free throws, and Seth when he gets back. I just need Charles and Shaq to shoot them better. They’re working on them. Charles was in here this morning, guys have been working on them. As the year goes on, they’ll make them.”
>> With fewer cupcake games this season, Turgeon has fewer chances to develop freshman Damonte Dodd against weaker opponents. He played a season-high 13 minutes against Morgan State, 12 against Marist and 11 against Abilene Christian — the three worst teams on Maryland’s slate thus far. Against the rest? One minute against Connecticut, three against Oregon State and two DNP-CDs against Northern Iowa and Providence.
“He’s practicing better,” Turgeon said. “He’s really good on the defensive end for us. He’s really improved there. A little bit lost at the other end still. We haven’t had a lot of cupcake games, which has probably hurt his development. He works hard every day in practice. It’s just situational more than anything with him. We’re all gaining confidence in him defensively, and he gives us something we don’t have, which is a shot blocker by the rim. For us to be successful, his development is going to be pretty important. It’s a long year. We’ve got a lot of basketball ahead of us.”
>> Aside from playing a nationally ranked opponent on national television, the comparisons between the Connecticut and Ohio State games end there. The season opener at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center had all the trappings of a home game for the Terps, right down to the booming pregame introductions and timeout T-shirt tosses. The experience of competing on that stage should help Maryland’s younger players, the veterans said, but Value City Arena brings an entirely different form of pressure.
“I think the more big games you get in a different venue, the better off you are, especially with young guys,” Smotrycz said. “It’ll definitely be different than the U-Conn. game, that was more so a home game for us than this. If we can stay composed, I think we’ve got a good shot.”
Said Mitchell, “That was a national-stage game, but we want to prove to people that we can play against big opponents and win those games.
>> Since losing to Oregon State, the Terps have allowed nearly 15 fewer points per game over their four-game winning streak. During that span, opponents are shooting 15.6 percent worse from the field and 25.6 percent worse on three-pointers.
>> Smotrycz has faced Ohio State more times (six) than Maryland (five).
>> Dave O’Brien (play-by-play) and Bob Knight (analyst) will have the call on ESPN.
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