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Cleare settling as one of Terps' big men

Mark Turgeon said he saw something in Shaquille Cleare during practice, so Maryland's men's basketball coach decided to give the freshman forward more minutes.

Cleare has been proving his worth, most recently in the Terrapins' last two games.

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He has no problem throwing around his large frame (6-foot-9, 265 pounds), whether it be in practice or against an opponent. Cleare made his first start Dec. 5 against Maryland-Eastern Shore and responded with a season-high 12 points in the Terps' 100-68 win. The following game, against South Carolina State, Cleare came off the bench to score eight points and grab eight rebounds, another season high, in Maryland's 61-46 victory.

Maryland's established big men, senior James Pagdett and sophomore Alex Len, appear to have some able-bodied teammates down low in Cleare and fellow freshman Charles Mitchell.

Look for Cleare to showcase his talents again tonight at 8 when the Terps (8-1) host Monmouth (5-5) at Comcast Center in search of their ninth consecutive win.

Cleare, a native of the Bahamas, said he's been learning a lot in practice, and he's relishing his ramped-up minutes and expectations.

"It's just motivating me to work that much harder," Cleare said. "I just have to do things much smoother, run plays and be a better defender. I have to limit my standing around and I have to be involved in every play now."

Some of that comes from going up against Len in practice. Cleare said he enjoys guarding Len, which can mean anything from being allowed to foul the 7-1 big man in an effort to toughen him up, to simply bowling him over on the court.

Cleare looks at his practice assignment as a treat.

"Whenever Alex goes to the NBA, if Alex forgets me I'll be pretty upset because I made him what he is this season," Cleare said. "No one beats up on him like I do. Last year there was no one to really push him around, so now I'm here.

"If that's what I've got to do, if that's what my scholarship has me here to do, then I'll beat up Alex for the rest of the year. I can't even find anyone else who's 7-1 to block all my shots all the time. I go next to him and push him into the stands."

Combining size, skill and strength is Turgeon's goal with Cleare and his fellow post players, particularly when ACC play begins in a month. That may explain why the Terps' coach has been tinkering with his starting lineup in December - Maryland has 10 players averaging double figures in minutes, and eight of those players are scoring at least six points per game.

The Terps have a few more non-conference home games remaining, but they have a nine-day break after tonight's tilt before Stony Brook comes to College Park. Delaware State and IUPUI follow, then Maryland opens its ACC slate Jan. 5 at home against Virginia Tech.

It's a stretch of winnable games, and more opportunities for Cleare to establish himself as a physical yet offensive threat for the Terps.

"He's a bruiser, but Shaq plays hard," Padgett said. "He's a big body, he's a strong guy, and you just have to be there ready to battle and compete. Sometimes he knocks people down, runs people over, but you've got to get used to that."

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