There was an inordinate amount of talk about Charles Mitchell's backside after Maryland's 79-50 romp over Delaware State Saturday at the Comcast Center.
Teammates and coaches were on it. The formidable freshman from Marietta, Ga., needed to reduce it and in the end, he put it to good use inside with career highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds as black-clad Maryland kicked the Hornets' backsides with a whopping 58-20 edge in points in the paint.
"A lot of people were on my tail," said Mitchell who recently saw his weight increase (about seven pounds), and his minutes decrease. "I had gotten into some bad habits so I had to do more conditioning after practice, just get up an run early in the morning, a lot of running with (strength and conditioning coach) Kyle (Tarp)."
The work paid off. Mitchell scored six straight points in a key first-half blitz that turned a tussle with the MEAC Hornets (5-8) into a rout as the Terrapins won their 11th straight game and improved to 11-1 heading into Tuesday's 3 p.m. tilt with IUPUI at Comcast.
"Charles has been working his tail off," said fellow freshman Seth Allen, who also had a nice game. "In practice when we got back from the break, Charles has been working hard. Coach (Mark Turgeon) has been pushing him hard. He played with a lot of effort today."
When asked if this was "the old Charles Mitchell," who had come off the bench to displace bodies and grab rebounds earlier this season, Mitchell smiled and offered, "I feel like it's a new Charles Mitchell. It took a lot, focusing on what I had to do."
And what he had to do was put a halt to what seemed headed to a "Freshman Fifteen" in terms of poundage. "I think it's real simple - he gained weight," said Turgeon. "He wasn't playing as 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, and (then) he got back to his discipline. He works his tail off. When we get beat on the boards it's not because of him."
The fact that Maryland had only a 36-30 rebounding edge at game's end was a disappointment for the demanding coach but Maryland still controlled the game inside. Heck, 58 of their 79 points were in the paint, 19 of them by Mitchell who scored on hooks, quick post-up moves, stickbacks and loose balls.
"I think after my first two shots I was just in the flow of the game," he said. "I just wanted to keep aggressively attacking the paint. I realized at one point I had 10 points and no rebounds so then it was time to attack the glass."
And Maryland did some attacking on defense, too, Turgeon throwing a variety of zone traps and even a very effective full-court press at the Hornets. Delaware State had 19 turnovers translating into 29 Maryland points, and the Terrapins had a season-low 10.
"It was so boring," joked Turgeon of DSU's by-design-deliberate pace. "We don't practice a lot of pressing after makes but we've done it enough. By us not pressing much (this season) I don't think they were ready for it when we started."
The press triggered a couple of big runs, 17 straight points in the first half and 10-0 early in the second, that essentially decided matters.
"We played 40 minutes," said Allen. "We really played Maryland defense."
Allen had 10 points and three steals, hitting 5-of-6 free throws along the way. Dez Wells was another key with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go with five rebounds and two steals.
"We had a great couple of practices after break and we really responded," said Wells. "Other than the fact that we were out-rebounded more than we wanted, we executed well and played our game. We hated how the South Carolina State game went and we wanted to control the tempo."
Wells referenced the 61-46 win over SC State on Dec. 8, the second of three wins over MEAC foes this season but one in which the Terrapins scored a season-low 61 points and never really took charge. No such problems Saturday.
As for Mitchell and his 8-of-12 shooting at the line and Turgeon-lauded 3-of-4 at the line, Wells said, "I always tell him that he can do that every night. Imagine next year or this year if he works his way into the starting (lineup). He is a walking double-double. The ball gravitates to him sometimes. He just brings so much energy."
And it was a good thing Charles was in charge because starting center Alex Len didn't have his best game, finishing with six points and just two rebounds. Coaches were on him throughout the game, Turgeon often giving him a quick hook, and yelling "Wake up, Alex, wake up!" midway through the first half.
Shaquille Cleare came in for him early, and Cleare, who again has been a standout in recent practices, had six points (3-of-3 from the field, 0-of-2 at the line) and three rebounds in 21 minutes. James Padgett had five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes to complete the big-man barrage.
"I thought we played really well," said Turgeon. "I thought we executed really well. The only thing we didn't do well was rebound. Give (Delaware State) some credit - they were a little tougher than us rebounding. Our freshmen and bench were great. We outscored them 45-8 with our bench."
Mitchell and Allen led the way but Jake Layman also had seven points on 3-of-6 shooting and was active at both ends. The execution also showed in freeing Logan Aronhalt up for four open three-point attempts, though he hit just one and finished with three points, two assists and two steals.
"It feels great to get everyone to touch the ball and everyone to rotate," said Mitchell. "When we have a lead on a team we want to keep it. We should be beating teams by 20 or 30 points."
And that's how things ended up though the Hornets stung the Terrapins early in the second half with a run reminiscent of the SC State game.
Delaware State started the second half strong, shaving an 18-point Maryland lead down to 13 with a 9-4 run. When Tahj Tate hit a jumper on the break it was 44-31 with 15:37 left.
That success was short-lived, though as Maryland ran off the next 10 points. Nick Faust scored inside from Wells, who had four assists, then Allen got two free throws. Allen got a steal in the press but missed only to have Mitchell tip it in. Faust had seven points in 20 minutes but the DSU match-up zone kept him from penetrating.
Howard, on his way to six points and six assists, got a lay-up in transition and then Wells drove baseline to make it 54-31 with 13:31 to play. The Hornets would never get closer than 20 points the rest of the way.
Maryland's lead ballooned to 25 points when Howard scored on the break at 10:45 to make it 62-37. A Len dunk pushed it to a 29-point edge, and when Aronhalt buried a three-pointer with 4:07 to play, it was a 30-point game at 73-43.
The lead would eventually reach 31 at it's largest, Mitchell - who else? - with a stickback to make it 77-46 with 1:18 to play. Maryland shot 56.9 percent from the field, their third straight game over 56 percent.
Defensively, Maryland made the Hornets the eighth team in the last nine to shoot below 40 percent (32.1) against the Terrapins. And the small rebounding total was likely exacerbated by Maryland's surprisingly heavy dose of zone and traps out of the halfcourt sets.
The Terps shot a sizzling 73.1 percent (19-of-26) to build a 40-22 halftime lead but you can do that when nearly all of your shots are coming close in. Mitchell came off the bench early to score 10 points in the first half, and Layman and Allen each had six as Maryland's bench outscored Delaware State's 26-4 the first 20 minutes.
The Hornets hit just 9-of-28 shots (32.1 percent) and were just 2-of-9 from long distance in the half, just 3-of-15 behind the arc for the game. Maryland had 17-10 rebounding edge and dominated inside, with a 32-10 points in the paint advantage in the first 20 minutes.
The Terrapins used a commanding 17-0 run beginning midway through the first half to take control. Mitchell had the first six points in that skein as Maryland held the Hornets without a field goal for over eight minutes. Delaware State missed 10 shots and had three turnovers over that span as Turgeon extended his defense to try to speed the game and get the Hornets out of their comfort zone offensively.
DSU last led 16-15 at 9:31 when Casey Walker hit two free throws but then the onslaught started, keyed by the Maryland defense. Charles scored inside from Allen to start the run, then hit a short hook after a scramble for a loose ball. When he finished on a quick feed from Len, it was 21-16.
Wells got a stickback. Allen drilled a three. Howard fed Wells on the wing in transition and Wells planted a one-hand dunk that brought the crowd of 12,389 to its feet. When Mitchell hit another hook, it was 32-16 at 4:37.
Delaware State finally got its first field goal in eight minutes, 20 seconds when Tate hit a drive at 4:21. Tate led the Hornets with 20 points and four assists, hitting 8-of-19 shots, many of them tough ones.
Mitchell had scored inside to tie the slow-paced game at 10-10 at the 12:55 mark but the Hornets ran off four of the next five points, leading 14-11 at 11:53 when Tate scored in transition. Layman, just in the game, hit a baseline jumper and the Terps regained the lead when Allen got a steal and coast-to-coast drive for a lay-up.
The Terps were sluggish out of the gates, missing four of their first five shots and committing a turnover in transition. Delaware State got a three from Walker and a turnaround jumper from Tate to make it 5-2.
Cleare came in early for Len, who missed two point-blank shots, and the big freshman scored inside. When Wells scored inside, Maryland led 6-5.
After Maryland's game Tuesday against IUPUI, conference play tips-off with an ACC opener against Virginia Tech on Saturday at noon.
"We are coming," said Turgeon. "The break was great. We really need a break. We have been on them so hard since June."
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