Mark Turgeon’s thoughts drifted to Shaquille Cleare specifically and his team’s depth in general as he navigated his way home from Verizon Center after Sunday’s defeat of George Mason.
His Maryland basketball team was through its trickiest week prior to league play. And while Turgeon is weary of talking about it, the softest part of a less-than-imposing nonconference schedule was upon the Terrapins.
It was, in reality, a bit of serendipity. The time to tinker was upon Turgeon and these Terps, and there was little reason to allow the opportunity to slip away.
And so Cleare started Wednesday, along with fellow freshmen Seth Allen and Jake Layman. It was the first lineup tweak of the season, and it came as Maryland commenced an eight-game homestand.
In truth, it didn’t matter who started for Maryland (7-1) on this particular night, which netted a 100-68 defeat of Maryland-Eastern Shore in what amounted to a glorified scrimmage. Nor will it likely have an impact Saturday, when Turgeon promised to trot out an alternate group when the Terps meet South Carolina State.
“You never know what lies ahead and I want everybody to know what it feels like to start in a game,” Turgeon said. “I’ve never done that before, but I’ve never had a team like this that likes each other as much as this team does and has the depth this team has. I know there’s no bruised egos because I did that.”
The lineup adjustments provided the evening’s only real drama. The Hawks (0-8), winless in 16 meetings with Maryland (all treks to College Park), had little hope of providing serious resistance to an opponent with vastly deeper reservoirs of talent, size and depth.
It was not a night for sweeping conclusions, other than solidifying what already seems obvious. Freshman Charles Mitchell could prove to be a rebounding savant. Guard Logan Aronhalt (now 15 of 23 from 3-point range) finds himself in a shooter’s paradise with so many options to divert attention from him.
And besides that? Beyond Turgeon’s tweaking?
“It’s hard to take away too much,” Aronhalt said. “The competition level is just so different. We just have to be able to bring it. At times we did tonight, at other times we really didn’t. it can’t be our goal to just beat teams like this. We have to win by 20, 30, 40 and really play our best.”
Maryland had little problems on offense, and at times showed little interest in defense. It didn’t much matter, what with the Terps’ lead never dipping below 20 points in the second half.
The evening’s biggest winner was arguably Cleare, who wound up with a career-best 12 points and a pair of emphatic blocked shots in the opening minutes. He logged 22 minutes, more than the 20 he managed in the two games last week combined.
“I had more time to get going,” Cleare said. “Keeping me in there longer, six minutes is a lot of time.”
It unsurprisingly became a night for nearly everyone to play a long time and in different roles (with the exception of guard Pe’Shon Howard, who Turgeon said had a stomach issue early in the second half and played only nine minutes). Nick Faust saw extended time at point guard. Layman snapped a four-game scoreless streak. Scout teamers John Auslander and Conner Lipinski scored for the first time all season.
And Maryland rolled along, its starters ecstatic at the reserves’ success and leaving little reason for Turgeon to doubt his atypical decision.
“We have a long time during this home stretch,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t think if I did it, it was going to affect anything because we have so much time to correct it if it did affect anything.”
There was little obvious impact, with players saying all the right things and the Terps pummeling an inferior foe. Even with a little intrigue, there was nothing tricky for Maryland about this evening.
—- Patrick Stevens