An encouraging stat to come out of Maryland’s somewhat disquieting 67-44 victory over Abilene Christian on Wednesday night at Comcast Center was the 36 points the Terps bench players scored.
Like the game itself, which saw Maryland score the last 29 points to turn a potentially embarrassing early-season struggle into a blowout win, the big lift off the bench was somewhat deceiving since all but two of the points came from sophomores Jake Layman and Charles Mitchell.
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Layman, who had 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, did not start because he missed Tuesday’s practice with what was described as a deep thigh bruise.
Mitchell, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, gave the slow-starting Terps some energy and inside presence in relief for the second straight game.
Now here comes Mark Turgeon’s dilemma.
What happens to that spark from the second team when he puts Layman back in the starting lineup and possibly does the same with Mitchell on Sunday against Oregon State -- and beyond?
Who is going to jump-start the Terps if they come out flat as they have their first two games?
It’s almost a given that Layman is going back into the starting lineup. There was a thought in the preseason that a player who is suddenly become Maryland’s most versatile scorer could be a great sixth man, but that plan disappeared when Seth Allen broke his foot.
Allen’s injury left the Terps a lot thinner than anyone could have predicted. It has forced Turgeon to move Dez Wells to point guard, where he has struggled to get comfortable, and then put freshman Roddy Peters and former walk-on Varun Ram into more expanded roles.
I think Turgeon has to move Layman back into the starting lineup, but I think he should keep Mitchell coming off the bench for the time being. Mitchell doesn’t seem to care and continuing to start Shaquille Cleare would at least give the 6-foot-9 sophomore every chance to blossom as Turgeon believes he will.
You would think that Turgeon will replace a struggling Cleare with Mitchell at center, but doing so might result in a big dropoff in production. But it could also cause a player who is struggling with his confidence to press even more than he is already in trying to replace Alex Len.
Cleare played only 13 minutes after picking up two early fouls. He played better in the second half during Maryland’s big run, blocking a couple shots, rebounding a couple others and picking up a steal. Turgeon is hoping that little spurt can be the catalyst for his top recruit from a year ago.
“Shaq’s going to be good, he’s a good player,” Turgeon said after the game Wednesday. “He didn’t play a lot last year and Shaq’s really hard on himself, he’s got to lighten up on himself a little bit and be confident.”
But it might be difficult to keep Mitchell out of the starting lineup.
“He started the second half, didn’t he?” Turgeon said. “He’s close [to starting]. Charles didn’t practice the way I wanted him to practice this week or he probably would have started. If he can practice well between now and Sunday, we’ll see if that happens. He doesn’t care. I know everybody else does, but he doesn’t. that’s why I like Charles.”
Mitchell is averaging 13.5 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench the first two games, and seems to enjoy how Turgeon is using him.
“I feel that’s my role on this team, it was my role last year, this year it’s a bigger role because I’m going to play more minutes, and I have to be more effective,” Mitchell said. “If the team is flat or even it has the lead, I have to bring energy every night.”
In reality, I don’t think Turgeon has much of a dilemma at all.