COLLEGE PARK--It was Dec. 14 and Shaquille Cleare had just notched his best game of the 2013-14 season. He scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor, grabbed five rebounds, and blocked two shots.
The code was simple on that day. Cleare and the Terrapins cracked it and he reaped the benefits.
“If the team runs a zone on you like that you just really have to be patient while you can,” he said. “Can’t be clogging the lane because then you stop dribble penetration.
“What the coaches drilled us with is just staying in the short corner with the hips low, you know, hips to the baseline, hands ready and as soon as the guard drops the ball off, explode up to the rim.”
As the non-conference slate gave way to the conference schedule, Cleare’s minutes and production would dwindle. Over a seven-game stretch in February and the early days of March, Cleare averaged 8.6 minutes per game and scored two total points.
But then came Tuesday night against Virginia Tech and a mix of factors that made it right for Cleare’s reemergence. One of his best friends, Charles Mitchell, sat at the end of the bench for disciplinary reasons, thinning out Maryland’s front court. And there was that zone again, the one he provided an answer to against Florida Atlantic.
Cleare did the same thing, cemented into a spot on that baseline, catching dishes from driving guards and exploding up to the rim on his way to six important points, three rebounds, and a block in 17 minutes in a 64-47 Maryland win.
“He’s fresh. His legs are fresh,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game, rattling off compliments for the sophomore. “Shaq stays in shape. He works hard. You know, that was a big-time dunk he had and I thought he had some nice rebounds. I thought he played smarter defensively as the half went on.”
All of that, then boiled down into one succinct phrase.
“Shaq was good.”