November 14, 2013

Terps Notebook: Mitchell, Layman, more

Following his team's 67-44 win over Abilene Christian, Mark Turgeon took to the podium last night and put to rest any conspiracy theories centering on his decision to start Roddy Peters.

Peters got the nod because Jake Layman, despite finishing the game with 19 points, had been nursing a thigh bruise and was unable to practice this week. Barring another injury, Peters is unlikely to crack the starting lineup again anytime soon. But another Terrapin might.

For the second straight day, Turgeon gushed about the unselfish nature of sophomore center Charles Mitchell, who has been a pleasant surprise for the Terps through two games.

Against Connecticut, Mitchell played well enough to start the second half in place of a slumping Shaquille Cleare. He responded with 10 crucial points down the stretch that aided a Maryland comeback attempt that fell just short.

Last night he did his best work against the Wildcats in the first half, tallying eight points and seven boards early on as his lethargic teammates sleepwalked around him. Turgeon again rewarded the sophomore with the second half nod and Mitchell kept his foot on the gas, finishing the night with 15 and 11.

"He's close," Turgeon said afterwards when asked if Mitchell has earned a starting spot. "Charles didn't practice the way I wanted him to practice this week, or he probably would have started."

So what went wrong?

Mitchell wasn't satisfied with how he rebounded or finished in the post in practice leading up to Wednesday, and apparently either was Turgeon. On that note, Mitchell was angry with himself for his rebounding effort against Connecticut, when the smaller Huskies managed to grab 36 boards to the Terrapins' 33. The 6-8 Mitchell accounted for only three of those 33 rebounds, despite playing 20 minutes. So how did his grade his performance on Wednesday night?

"I'm never satisfied," he said with a smile. "You can always do better than you did tonight. I'm always trying to be better than I was last game."

Cleare, Mitchell's roommate, has had an underwhelming start to the season. He started last night but recorded only a single point in 13 maddening minutes. Turgeon hinted that his confidence tends to wanes, putting the third-year coach in a tough spot if Mitchell continues to emerge.

"That's a big question," Turgeon said. "How much time did Shaq get today? Not a lot. He got in foul trouble. He was trying to hustle on his second foul and he jumped on the guy. He was trying to compete. Guys didn't do a good job of getting him the ball. Second half I thought he gave us better minutes."

"Shaq is going to be good, guys. He is a good player."

Cleare may come around, as he's less experienced and less polished than Mitchell. It may just be a matter of getting comfortable for the 6-9 Bahaman and pulling the plug on a player like him is a dangerous proposition. In the meantime, Mitchell's breezy attitude should keep his coach, if he chooses, out of such precariousness.

"I'm not the type of kid that cares about starting," Mitchell said. "I don't come out everyday in practice and say, 'I can't wait for my name to be called before the game. I want to see the bright lights.' I don't care about none of that. I just like playing basketball."

Layman on "another level"

Turgeon praised the offseason work of Layman after he dropped 23 on Catholic in Maryland's opening exhibition a few weeks ago. It's tough to gauge how much stock can you put in a performance against a Division III opponent, but two games into the official season, the sophomore swingman is turning heads in College Park.

He was the leading scorer last night for the Terps despite sustaining a deep thigh bruise this week in practice. He didn't start, but boy did he finish. Layman ignited the 29-0 run that slammed the door on the Wildcats when he scored 14 of 16 points, including three of his signature treys.

"Being able to put the ball on the floor more and use my dribble," said Layman when asked what has changed for him. "Guys are coming and flying out at me, so I can use the dribble to get to the rim."

Layman's range is no secret, so there should be no shortage of desperate defenders soaring through the air in an attempt to disrupt his deadly aim. His floor game, however, was his concentration this summer and if November is any indication of the results, opponents will have a whole lot to account for than his jumper.

About those conspiracy theories…

With Peters announced as the starter last night, a sizeable chunk of Terrapin nation must have thought they got their wish. The Terps' point guard problems are well documented, but Turgeon looked and sounded genuine after Wednesday's game.

"All right. A lot of things I want to say, so I'll probably save you guys some questions," the coach said.

Peters started because Layman didn't practice. Wells sat because of a "miscommunication," but their relationship is dandy. It's as simple as that, right?

In a word, yes. Fans have clamored for more Peters since Seth Allen went down, but Turgeon has stuck to his guns from the start and on Tuesday even made some concessions about the backcourt situation. There doesn't seem to be any reason for him to be playing games now.

Maybe the issues with Wells escalate, or maybe the team simply misses his scoring too much and they are forced to make a change. But for now, expect to see Wells running the show on Sunday when the Terps take the floor against Oregon State.

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