COLLEGE PARK — Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon has been faced with a dilemma periodically this season: whether to start sophomore Charles Mitchell, his most productive big man, or keep the 6-foot-8, 260-pound sophomore coming off the bench.
Though undersized to play center, Mitchell's ability to give the Terps a burst of energy with his robust rebounding and occasional offensive flash has, at times, been valuable to a team severely lacking consistent contributions inside or off the bench.
The question going into Saturday's home game is whether starting Mitchell will give Maryland (13-10, 5-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) a boost right from the opening tip against Florida State (14-8, 5-5). It didn't happen in Mitchell's first start Tuesday, a 75-63 loss at North Carolina.
Though he eventually finished with 13 rebounds, five points and three blocked shots in 20 minutes, Mitchell was on the court for the first four minutes as the Terps quickly fell behind. The deficit was 17-3 when Mitchell came out at the first television timeout.
Mostly because of the way Mitchell played the rest of the game and practiced the past two days — and also because sophomore Shaquille Cleare went scoreless and collected just one rebound in 15 minutes against the Tar Heels — Turgeon will stick with Mitchell against the Seminoles.
Though saying that the center position will continue to be filled "by committee," Turgeon said that Mitchell "at least rebounds and gives us second-chance points, which is big. I think our offense feels a little bit better when he's in there, too."
Not that Turgeon has many options in his rotation to counter Florida State, which uses 7-3, 240-pound sophomore Boris Bojanovsky and 7-1, 290-pound sophomore Michael Ojo at center and typically play two of their top scorers, sophomore guard Aaron Thomas and senior guard Ian Miller, off the bench.
With Miller sitting out Wednesday's 70-50 win over Virginia Tech with an ankle injury, Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton elected to start Thomas, who responded with 24 points. It isn't clear whether Thomas will start or if Miller, who didn't practice the past two days, will play against Maryland.
"What we want to do is just play our game," Turgeon said. "If our bench is playing well, they'll play more. If not, we'll get our scoring from our starters. Last year, we'd have games where we'd have 40 points from our bench. It's different. This year's a little bit different. We're not quite as deep, not as much firepower coming off the bench."
Without a long-range shooter such as Logan Aronhalt coming off the bench, the Terps have relied mostly on junior guard Nick Faust (City) and until this week, Mitchell. Faust has averaged more than 10 points off the bench since being removed from the starting lineup eight games into the season.
Asked if he thought the Terps would have to match Florida State's offensive firepower off the bench, particularly if Miller plays, Faust said: "We definitely have to match them. Hopefully our starters get out on a jump and whoever comes off the bench with me brings energy."
Faust believes that Mitchell's move into the starting lineup — with Cleare and junior forward Jon Graham (Calvert Hall) getting the remainder of the minutes — won't have an adverse effect on a team lacking overall production from the bench.
"Charles is just a big sparkplug when he comes off the bench," Faust said Friday at Comcast Center. "He impacts the game right away. When guys are tired, he just uses his body. Shaq just has to come in with a lot of energy and fight on the boards."
With Mitchell in the starting lineup, Faust was the only reserve to score for the Terps against the Tar Heels. Faust finished with eight points and missed four of six shots — including all four 3-pointers he tried — in 26 minutes. Brice Johnson scored all 19 of North Carolina's bench points.
In their first meeting this season, the Seminoles outscored the Terps, 44-17, off the bench, with Miller scoring a game-high 20 points and Thomas finishing with 14. In 10 league games this season, the Terps' bench has been outscored by the opposition's bench six times.
Earlier this season, Turgeon tried Evan Smotrycz off the bench, but the junior forward scored just four points in a win over Marist in St. Thomas. The only time Jake Layman didn't start, after he missed the previous practice with an injury, the sophomore foward scored 19 against Abilene Christian.
The lack of production is compounded by having two freshmen who have not developed as quickly as Turgeon hoped. Point guard Roddy Peters lost his starting job when sophomore Seth Allen returned from injury, and Peters' confidence has waned. He has gone scoreless in five of the past six games.
After saying several times this season that he had to find more minutes for 6-9 freshman center Damonte Dodd of Centreville, Turgeon made it clear Friday that Dodd, more of a defensive player, is not ready for a regular role in the rotation.
"Am I saying he's not going to play? I don't know," Turgeon said of Dodd, who did not play against the Tar Heels and played only four minutes during the previous game at Virgnia Tech. "But we are who we are, and we've just got to figure out a way to play the best we can."
For the time being, that is with Mitchell starting at center. The Terps will likely need him to add to the five double-digit rebound games he has this season, including the career-high of 18 he snatched in a loss at North Carolina State last month.
Mitchell doesn't think it makes a different whether or not he starts.
"I'm still going to play the Charles Mitchell game," he said Tuesday in Chapel Hill. "I'm still going to go out and give it my all every night, starter or not, and be the best player I can be."
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