Maryland’s conditioning opportunities decreased in early December, and freshman Charles Mitchell slipped a bit. He added a few pounds, grew a little more sluggish and found his playing time diminish significantly.
The sting of sitting on the bench led to a rededication —- and an explosive performance from the forward in Saturday’s 79-50 rout of Delaware State at Comcast Center.
Mitchell had career-highs in points (19) and rebounds (14) as the Terrapins cruised to their 11th consecutive victory as the end of nonconference play approached.
“I took it as every freshman has his slumps,” Mitchell said. “I think this is my freshman slump where I have to take it seriously. He told me what I have to do and when I wasn’t playing a lot I was down on myself because I wasn’t playing a lot. I just took it as a learning experience.”
The learning curve for Mitchell and the rest of his teammates is about to accelerate, and Maryland (11-1) looked as prepared for the looming change of pace as they have at any point during its lengthy homestand.
After permitting the Hornets (5-8) to linger for more than 10 minutes, Maryland uncorked a 17-0 run to seize a 32-16 lead with 4:38 remaining in the first half. The Terps expanded the lead to 18 by halftime and were never seriously challenged by the undersized visitors from the MEAC.
It was a welcome day for several of Maryland’s freshmen. Forward Jake Layman was perhaps as at ease as he’s been all season, scoring seven points and delivering an eye-popping dunk in the latter stages of the first half.
Point guard Seth Allen was disruptive, matching a career-best with three steals while scoring 10 points and limiting mistakes while running the offense.
The obvious standout, though, was Mitchell, who became the first Terp with both 19 points and 14 rebounds in a game since Jordan Williams had 27 points and 15 rebounds against Wake Forest in February 2011.
“Those were pretty impressive numbers,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We get our tails kicked on the board if not for him.”
The rebounding was perhaps the only nit for Turgeon to pick coming out of an eight-day layoff. The Terps shared the ball, shot well early on and ran crisp sets even when shots didn’t fall as frequently in the latter stages of the game.
It was a hint the Terps are increasingly prepared for ACC play, which commences Jan. 5 when Virginia Tech visits College Park. And it also backed up Turgeon’s claims of a day earlier his team needed some time off after exams.
“We’re coming,” Turgeon said. “The break was great. We needed a break. We’ve been on them so hard since June and then we practiced in July took August off and started in September. It was great. It really helped us. We also know what lies ahead next Saturday and we’re really excited about that and looking forward to it. I think you see a little sense of urgency with us.”
He could find little disagreement from a roster fully aware the more interesting portion of the schedule will soon begin. These Terps have rolled through a nonconference schedule mostly designed for a less imposing team, collecting five of its 11 victories by at least 20 points and eight of them by double figures.
The latest pummeling, though, offered renewed promise for what Maryland could accomplish in the next few months.
“It’s a week away, and you can see in practices everybody is going hard. It’s a different team,” Allen said. “We’re playing so much harder than we were in the beginning of the season. Just us knowing ACC play is right around the corner, guys are giving everything they’ve got and you can see in the game that it translates.”
—- Patrick Stevens