Sunday was a great day to be a Terrapin many reasons. Here's just a few of them.
A little love for Shaquille Cleare please?
It's been a frustrating run for Shaq Cleare, who, over his last 10 games before Sunday had averaged only 9 minutes, 1.3 points and 2.2 rebounds while Charles Mitchell's role steadily grew. Well, Shaq has been quietly picking things up. He logged 26 minutes of court time vs. Virginia and he made them count. His stat line was a modest 5 points and 5 boards, but let's take a look at some Virginia stats so we can better understand Shaq's contribution. Starting Cavs big men Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey combined for just 6 points and four rebounds on 2-of-7 shooting, while Maryland won the battle of the boards, 35-30. Charles Mitchell was limited to 15 foul-plagued minutes, Jonathan Graham played 4 and Damonte Dodd didn't play. So Shaq manned the middle for the vast majority of a game in which Maryland imposed its will and its style upon a very well-coached team.
A quick quiz:
See if you can identify who is who here based on their averages over the last 3 games.
Player A: 13.3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 46% FGs, 8-of-15 3-pointers, 1 turnover
Player B: 8.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, .3 assists, 19% FGs, 5-of-23 3 pointers, 3 turnovers
Well, it probably isn't rocket science, but Player A is Evan Smotrycz and Player B is Jake Layman. Smotrycz has taken heavy fire this year for his play, and yeah, he had a couple tough games, but it's probably time to take notice of how solid he's been while Maryland has played a run of pretty good basketball (that is, if you credit them for playing really good games against really good teams, which I do). Meanwhile, Layman is a popular player who isn't nearly as heavily scrutinized when he struggles, which he definitely does sometimes. Smotrycz was excellent against Virginia in a team-high 39 minutes. He played with attitude, he hit shots, he was authoritative in the paint and he played a big role in the interior defense that was so key to this victory. Stretch 4s like Smotrycz are, to some degree, specialists. He's not going to carry the load when the team isn't clicking, but when Maryland is a good team, like it was on Sunday, Smotrycz can be an assasin who hurts opponents in so many ways. Love him or hate him, Smotrycz is undeniably one of Maryland's best basketball players and will be an absolute key not only to the Terps' hopes this week in the ACC Tournament, but also to their hopes in the 2014-2015 season. The junior transfer and first-year Terp is on a very good run, so maybe it's time to think about thawing out on him.
Maybe Mark Turgeon can coach a little
Virginia entered Sunday's game holding opponents to a best-in-the-nation 54.8 PPG. Maryland lit up the Cavs for 75, the second most they've allowed all season. Why? Because Mark Turgeon outcoached Tony Bennett. Maryland dictated the tempo against a team and a coach famous for always getting the tempo they want. The Terps mixed up defensive sets, pressed effectively, defended furiously, controlled the paint, and snatched the Cavs' identity away from them. If not for a career first half from London Perrantes, not to mention that extremely lucky bounce on a late UVA missed free throw, this game might not have been nearly so close. Maryland wanted it more, played with more conviction, defended better and executed better against one of the nation's most disciplined teams. So c'mon, even you harsh critics, how 'bout a hat tip to the coach for big and momentous win over a top-five team?
- Seth Allen is really good. No need for me to recite stats or summon plays from Sunday's game that we all watched anyway. Allen is just a really good young scorer with a great nose for the basket, a sense of the moment, and a knack for dramatic plays. His youth still gets in the way sometimes, like when he takes contested 3s early in the shot clock, but the guy plays with passion and he's damn exciting to watch. Allen & Dez Wells combined for 38 points against Virginia and when those two slashers are hot, it opens everything up for all the other guys.
- The Charles Mitchell episode from Virginia Tech seems to be completely in the past. Mitchell only played 15 minutes against Virginia but that was due to fouls, not favor. Which is good, because I love Charles Mitchell. The thing that got him in trouble is the very thing that is going to make him a great upperclassman big man for the next two years: he wears his heart on his sleeve and is relentless. As long as he directs those attributes toward the boards and the basket, not toward assistant coach Scott Spinelli, he's going to be just fine.
- I love it when Jake Layman turns poor shooting games into good games in other ways. Layman couldn't find his stroke and took a couple of really bad 3s on top of it, but he salvaged the afternoon by hitting the boards -- a team-high 8 rebounds -- and being absolutely nails from the foul line (8-for-8!), especially in OT when he iced the game.