ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — If Shaquille Cleare becomes the kind of player both Gary Williams and Mark Turgeon thought he'd be when they recruited against one another for the 6-foot-9, 265-pound center, Cleare and others might point to Friday’s game against Marist as the starting point.
Though his numbers were not overly impressive — eight points and five rebounds in 19 minutes of Maryland’s 68-43 victory over the Red Foxes — his on-court demeanor was about as good as it has been since Cleare came to College Park from Houston.
Playing mostly against Marist center Adam Kemp, who was the only player in the country last season to have more than 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in a game, Cleare held his own at both ends. Kemp finished with seven points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in 26 minutes against Cleare and the Terps.
Cleare began both halves well, something he has rarely done at Maryland. He started the game with a tip-in follow and the second half with a dunk after a shovel pass from Dez Wells. He later whipped a skip pass to Wells for an open 3-pointer that was part of a 10-0 Maryland run to start the second half. Cleare hit all four of his field-goal attempts.
"Anything for the team, it felt great. [The dunk] was a great way to start the second half,” Cleare said.
In his first three games, Cleare averaged just 2.0 points and 2.3 rebounds. He got in early foul trouble in the Abilene Christian game and was dominated in Sunday’s 90-83 loss at home to Oregon State by Beavers center Devon Collier, who scored 29 points and had 11 rebounds.
“I had some ups and downs this season, but in spite of that I have to continue to work hard because the team is going to need me,” Cleare said.
Cleare looked like he had an actual low-post game against Marist, making a nice, little left-handed move for a layup and often getting in position to snag rebounds and alter shots. Cleare attributes much of what happened Friday to feeling better after having battled injuries to his back and hamstring the past few months.
“I’m just starting to get my feel back. I haven’t felt really comfortable yet. I’m getting back in my comfort zone, and you’re going to see a lot more of that the rest of the season,” Cleare said.
Cleare had said during the preseason that he was 100 percent, but he conceded Friday that only now was he at full strength. "It’s a process to get back," he said. "I haven’t played in, like, six, seven months. Having great practices is starting to translate over to the game.”
It’s also a great relief to Turgeon, who has been one of Cleare’s biggest boosters the past two years. Turgeon, who tried to recruit Cleare to go to Texas A&M when he was still the Aggies' coach, said Friday might have been the best the former high school star has shown.
“Maybe it’s the island deal,” Turgeon said of Cleare, who lived in the Bahamas until he was 14. “I was really happy for him. The big kid [Kemp] is good for them. I thought Shaq did a really nice job on him throughout the game. He kind of wore the kid down.”
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