Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was happy with the physical work of Shaquille Cleare in the Terrapins’ 51-50 victory over N.C. State. The presence of the 6-9, 270-pound freshman keyed a defense that held the nation’s best shooting team to a season-low 31.1 percent from the floor. In 24 minutes, his most in a game this year, Cleare contributed eight points and five rebounds.
“I think Shaq was terrific,” Turgeon said. “It was a perfect game for him – big bodies, the UCLA offense that they ran, a lot of big guys close to the basket. It was a good situation for him. I think that was probably the best thing about the whole nigh was Shaq and how well he performed and how ready he was for it.”
When Maryland (14-3, 2-2) plays Saturday at North Carolina (11-5, 1-2) it will be interesting to see how Cleare adapts to the completely different style of the Tar Heels.
“It’s a whole different animal,” Turgeon said. “They run five-man motion, get their big guys away from the basket.”
Cleare came to Maryland as the prize recruit of a talented freshman class, but has had an up-and-down debut season, disappearing in some games when he’s not had immediate success, emerging as an inside force in others.
Cleare has been prone to struggle in games against smaller, quicker foes. But Cleare warmed to the task of banging inside against N.C. State senior Richard Howell (6-8, 260), who ranks second in the ACC in rebounding (10.5 pg) and field goal shooting (61.2 percent). In 35 minutes, Howell had to work hard for his eight points and 13 rebounds.
“We were going at it the whole time,” Cleare said. “I don’t think he’s gone against no one like me before. He was trying to hit me and I wasn’t moving. He was like, just throw it back out, whatever. I think it was good for me to go against a real physical person.”
With Cleare in the starting lineup, Alex Len moved to the four and had success on Wednesday as well. His numbers weren’t impressive (10 points, six rebounds, one block), but he scored the Terps’ final six points, including the game-winning basket.
Like Cleare, Len’s biggest contribution came on defense, where he limited N.C. State scoring leader C.J. Leslie to 13 points and five rebounds in 37 minutes.
“Our guards are starting to help us out, instead of relying on Alex to do everything,” Turgeon said. “Alex was terrific on defense, especially around the rim. That’s what I watch. I was like, holy smokes, we’re getting it.”
As Len gets used to his new position and Cleare to increased playing time, there will be an adjustment. Turgeon says for now it limits what the Terps can do.
“You saw some times in the first half when guys would come out, stand around and look at each other on offense,” Turgeon said. “That’s because Alex had no idea where he was supposed to go. We had to really simplify it. We were really generic offensively with those two in the game.”
Cleare believes the combo will benefit the offense in the long run.
“I think it’s pretty good because it opens up the floor for everyone else,” Cleare said. “It makes a great opportunity to score and make shots.”
Maryland at North Carolina
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV / Radio: ESPN / ESPN 980 AM