That it came collectively from sophomores Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare might make it seem a little less impressive, but Terps coach Mark Turgeon was certainly pleased with the play of his big men.
Cleare’s contribution of five points, five rebounds and the blocked shot in a season-high 26 minutes off the bench might be thought of as a flicker rather than a spark, but it signals that the 6-foot-9, 270-pound center still might turn things around after a disappointing start to his college career.
Mitchell’s numbers against the Cavaliers of six points, three rebounds and three turnovers in 15 minutes as a starter was countered by the way the 6-8, 260-pound forward kept his emotions in check after Turgeon kicked him off the bench Tuesday in the first half of a win over Virginia Tech.
The performance of the bigger half of Turgeon’s 2012 recruiting class -- the other half being Seth Allen and Jake Layman -- comes as the Terps prepare for their ACC tournament opener against Florida State, which boasts one of the bigger and meatier frontcourts in the league.
“Charles was 3-for-4, and I thought Shaq defensively was really good,” Turgeon said after the team’s biggest win of the season. “Ball screen defense, which is not easy for him, he was really solid. Our big guys, they played with great intelligence today. They had to zone up, they had to guard two guys a lot. They had to show for ball screens.”
Turgeon was also referring to the defense played by junior forward Evan Smotrycz, who kept the Terps in the game early and scored all 13 of his points before halftime, as well as junior Jon Graham, who got one rebound in four minutes off the bench.
The play of Cleare, coming off a solid effort after Mitchell was sent to the locker room with a little more than four minutes left in the first half against the Hokies, is seen as a positive sign by his teammates.
He had a couple of powerful dunks against Virginia Tech and finished around the rim against the Cavaliers. He also had a big tip off a miss by Allen that Layman converted into a pair of free throws.
Cleare hit 3 of 4 free throws against the Cavaliers, something that could keep him on the floor if the game is close against the Seminoles on Thursday afternoon at Greensboro Coliseum.
Asked how important Mitchell and Cleare were for Maryland in the win, junior guard Dez Wells said: “They played really well. They made winning plays. Shaq with the tip. I think that was the game-winning play for us. Going forward, their confidence should be expanding right now.”