COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland (11-7, 3-2 ACC) had already cut into Notre Dame's nine-point halftime lead with a pair of scores to open the second frame, but it was Terps sophomore forward Charles Mitchell's three-bucket barrage that spurred UMD's offense in a 74-66 victory Jan. 15.
At the 13:48 mark, Terps wing Evan Smotrycz missed a layup that would have made it a three-point UMD deficit, but Mitchell was right there for the putback. Twenty second later, Maryland point guard Seth Allen missed another lay-in, but once again the big Georgian had inside position for the easy stickback.
The latter deuce prompted Notre Dame coach Mike Brey to call a timeout, and his team responded with a basket. Mitchell, however, answered immediately with his third consecutive layup, making it a 36-35 game. A minute-and-a-half later, Allen drilled a 3 to give UMD the edge, and from there Maryland never looked back, stretching the advantage to as many as 11.
"That's what he do. That's what I expect from [Mitchell]," said Mitchell's fellow big man, Shaq Cleare, who finished with seven points and two boards. "We're really hard on one another because we know the potential each other has, so we work on one another…Those were big buckets; they really opened things up for us."
While Mitchell had his share of struggles -- he allowed Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman to score 18 points and missed a couple easy shots in the first half -- his second-half surge epitomized Maryland's effort during the latter 20 minutes. That's when the Terps outscored the Irish 49-32 and owned the boards, 20-16, while knocking down 17 of 23 free throws.
Maryland, which has been inconsistent at best on the blocks this season, routinely took it to the heart of the Notre Dame defense, challenging Sherman and fellow postman Pat Connaughton (game-high 19 points) in the paint. For the game, Maryland outscored the Irish inside, 34-30, including 20-12 in the second half.
In total, the Terps out-rebounded Notre Dame 40-31, and owned the offensive glass to the tune of 20-11. Mitchell, who finished with 10 points, led the way with six offensive boards, while Smotrycz added five, Allen chipped in three and Jake Layman picked up a pair.
"We hit the glass in the first half, we just didn't make any layups after the rebounds," said junior Dez Wells, who scored all 17 of his points in the second frame. "Chuck [Mitchell] might have had eight rebounds in the first half, but we couldn't finish…We were thinking too much. We just had to go out and have fun and execute…We can be so much better on offense. You haven't seen how good we can be on offense."
Cleare concurred with Wells, saying the first half was a major struggle finishing inside. Maryland had 13 offensive boards to start the game, but had just four second-chance points.
"We missed some easy bunnies around the rim, but we started to make them in the second half," he said. "In the second half we executed and got it done…. We have great shooters, but [the post players] have to box out and convert, regardless. I had one [offensive rebound] today, and we got a bucket off of that. It's really important to get those second-chance points."
Fortunately for the Terps, the shots started to fall when Mitchell took over down low. UMD ended up with 10 second-chance points for the night, which didn't please head coach Mark Turgeon, but at least his squad recovered in time.
"When Charles had the three shots and made the hook shot I was so excited because we finally scored on a second-chance," Turgeon said. "But Charles is practicing hard, he's got his weight down and he's just playing well. He didn't finish the way he's capable of, but he was getting rebounds. He's a load."
Mitchell wasn't the only one who finished around the rim late during the game. After Notre Dame had cut Maryland's lead to 55-48 on an Eric Atkins 3-pointer, Cleare responded with a bucket and a foul, sapping the Irish momentum.
"How fun was that? That was a tough shot he made. And he had that free throw, it wanted to roll out and it went in. That was the kind of night Shaq had," Turgeon said. "The one possession Shaq was open for 16 seconds before Jake found him and he finished that one too…
"He's getting more confident… Our 5 position has been a struggle, but Charles, Shaq, their experience showed up tonight."
Wells said when the frontcourt is scoring it adds another dynamic to Maryland's offense. He said teams just can't sit in a zone -- like Notre Dame did for the majority of the first half, when Maryland shot 32 percent and was 3 of 16 from beyond the arc -- while shading out to face-guard the Terps' outside threats.
"[Defenses] have to play the post. If you don't dig on our postmen, they're going to eat you alive," Wells said. "Charles, Shaq, they're working hard in practice and it's showing up in the game"
Wells did his share of post scoring as well. After foundering in the first half, going 0-for-6 from the floor and missing two free throws right off the bat, Wells recovered in a big way. He drove the lane, converted underneath and knocked down all 11 of his second-half free throws.
"I expect a certain level from myself… I have to just remember it's a game and just play it," Wells said. "It's like I missed those first two free throws and I let it get to me, but in the second half I got into it."
"At halftime I said, ‘Dez, you have to play better. You have to,'" Turgeon said. "And he did. He became a big boy, bullied them a couple times, got to the block and hit free throws. Dez wants it so bad, they all do."
Speaking of free throws, Maryland's ability to penetrate the lane, initiate contact and then knock it down from the stripe kept the Irish at bay. The Terps managed just three foul shots in the initial frame (missing all three), but in the second stage they hit 17 of 20.
"It shows the team is getting better, and gaining more confidence when you can hit [free throws] to seal the game," said Nick Faust, who had 13 points and converted 3 of 4 from the line. "That was really big for us down the stretch."
Now if Maryland could just put together a full 40 minutes, it would be in good shape heading forward. But it's still early in conference play, and the Terps are 3-2 after the Jan. 15 victory, effectively rebounding (pun intended) from back-to-back road losses at Pittsburgh and Florida State.
"Coming off two big losses in embarrassing fashion, this is where you really, really find out what kind of team you are," Wells said. "We fought to the end, we competed. That's what Coach Turgeon wants to see from us -- fight. He knows it's inside of us."
Mitchell, Terps Hit the Offensive Glass
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