Despite some tentative performances in recent weeks by Maryland's freshmen, second-year coach Mark Turgeon said Friday that he had not lost faith in his first full recruiting class. On Saturday, Turgeon's confidence seemed justified.
After a slow start against Delaware State at Comcast Center, the Terps were led out of their early afternoon slumber by freshman Charles Mitchell and the rest of a group ranked among the top 15 coming out of high school.
Mitchell, who had totaled just six points in his past three games, scored 10 by halftime and finished with career-highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds in leading Maryland to an easy 79-50 victory before an announced crowd of 12,389.
Turgeon was typically blunt about why Mitchell's game, in particular his rebounding, had fallen off after beginning his career by collecting 10 rebounds in 16 minutes of a season-opening loss to then No. 3 Kentucky.
"I think it's real simple — he gained weight, he wasn't playing [many] minutes, we weren't doing the extra conditioning that he needs, he was probably eating a few pizzas at night that he shouldn't be eating," Turgeon said. "He got back to his discipline. Those are pretty impressive numbers. We get our tails kicked on the boards [36-30 in favor of Maryland] if it was not for him."
Asked if he showed his old self — the one who was more voracious gobbling up rebounds than pizzas — the 6-8, 260-pound Mitchell said with a laugh, "I feel like it's a new Charles Mitchell. I'm just excited. It took a lot of refocusing on what I had to do. ... I had gotten into some bad habits. Got a little heavy. I got [the six pounds he said he gained] down real fast, got into better shape than I was."
It was the 11th straight win for the now Terps (11-1), who play next on New Year's Day against IUPUI, giving Maryland its longest winning streak since the NCAA championship 2001-02 team won 13 straight. It was also their third win this season over a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team. Delaware State (5-8) was led by guard Tahj Tate, who scored a game-high 20 points.
It was the third double-double for Mitchell this season, his first since scoring 10 points and getting 11 rebounds in a 100-68 win over UMES on Dec. 5. Mitchell set the tone for his fellow freshmen by hitting his first five shots and finishing the game shooting 8 of 12 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free throw line.
"After I made my first two shots, I felt like I was in the flow of the game and I thought to myself, 'Keep attacking the paint,'" Mitchell said. "I realized when I came to the huddle, I had 10 points and no rebounds, so I started attacking the glass and helping my teammates on the boards."
Mitchell's fast start was contagious, particularly among the freshmen. On a day when sophomore center and leading scorer Alex Len (six points, two rebounds in 17 minutes) seemed out of sorts playing against Delaware State's zone defense and constant double-teams, the Maryland freshmen accounted for 13 straight points in one stretch in the first half as the Terps went on a 17-2 run and eventually led at halftime, 40-22, with the freshmen scoring 24 of their team's first-half points.
The freshmen wound up scoring 42 points for the game, and Maryland outscored Delaware State 45-8 off the bench. Freshman guard Seth Allen scored 10, forward Jake Layman finished with seven points and three steals and center Shaquille Cleare had six points and three rebounds, hitting all three of his shots. Sophomore transfer Dez Wells had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"The freshmen were good," Turgeon said. "Shaq's been practicing at a high, high level. We haven't run into a big team, so it's hard to play him and Alex together. But we've been practicing that a lot more so we'll be ready for that when the time comes. All of them are getting better. … And of course Dez, our other newcomer, he's so unselfish, he knew he didn't have to do a lot tonight so he didn't do a lot."
Not only did Mitchell play his best game in more than three weeks, but Layman finally showed a glimpse of why he was considered the second-best player in the class behind Cleare, a player who made the U-18 national team last summer. Layman, who had made only 1 of 11 shots in his past three games and seemed to have lost a lot of confidence, made his first jumper and all three of his first-half shots.
Layman followed in a miss by Mitchell with a dunk and scored right before the halftime buzzer on a neat feed from senior transfer Logan Aronhalt. Though Layman missed the back end of a two-shot free throw following a steal and fast break on which he was fouled, and all three of his field-goal attempts in the second-half, Turgeon was pleased with his 19-minute effort.
"We all saw the Jake that he's capable of being," Turgeon said. "He's nowhere close to where he's going to be."
Turgeon recalled a conversation he had with Layman's parents before the 6-8 forward went home to the Boston suburbs for Christmas.
"Christmas break, I talked to his parents before he went home and they asked how to handle him and I told them, 'Just be positive with him, there's a lot going on,'" Turgeon said. "'If you want to get on him about school, you can do that, we've already done it, but basketball-wise, just be positive.' I think it was good [for Layman] just to go home and he came back and he had his two best days of practice."