Shaquille Cleare heard whispers and he read stories. The Terrapins men’s basketball center knew there were fans and media members who believed he hadn’t been living up to expectations over the season’s first 10 contests, in which he averaged less than four points and three rebounds per game.
But Cleare, a top-50 recruit in the class of 2012, has started every game this season, and he began to show slight progress in Saturday’s 66-62 victory over Florida Atlantic.
Cleare was active on both ends of the floor, posting a season-high 10 points and tying his season-highs with five rebounds and two blocks against the Owls. He wasn’t dominant, but the sophomore from The Bahamas believes he took the first step toward silencing his critics.
“People have been saying a lot of stuff, but I think it’s motivating me,” Cleare said afterward. “From here, I’m moving on up.”
It’s been a tough start to a promising career for Cleare. He was buried behind lottery pick Alex Len on the depth chart last season and made just seven starts. Then this offseason Cleare missed significant time with a back injury and couldn’t train during a summer that he hoped would be crucial to his development.
In the win over FAU, though, Cleare grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a put back on the first possession off the game to jolt arguably his best performance of the season.
“It helps get the crowd going, get my teammates going, get the coaches going,” Cleare said. “I think it really started the game for us.”
Cleare finally sustained some success against FAU and he hopes his effort on Saturday will serve as a sign of things to come. That way he’d be able to shake the label of underachieving prospect and begin to craft his own narrative.
“That ain’t the important thing,” Cleare said of the negative attention. “I can play this game.”
JAKE’S BIG SHOT
Last Thursday, guard Dez Wells scored 18 points in the final seven minutes at Boston College to secure an 88-80 win for the Terps. Then on Saturday, the junior didn’t score in the final 10 minutes against FAU’s zone defense, leaving the Terps in search of a new source of offense.
They found it in forward Jake Layman. The 6-foot-8 sophomore proved to be a capable closer Saturday as he scored nine of the Terps’ final 11 points and hit a corner 3-pointer with 37 seconds left to seal the win.
“That was a big shot for us to close it out,” Cleare said. “Jake just has to keep working hard to be the dominant player we know he can be.”
Layman finished with 22 points (12 in the second half), but his nine points down the stretch may carry the most significance.
Now the Terps know that in the final minutes of the game, they don’t have to live and die with Wells’ offensive production. Layman provides a second option as a potent scorer in the clutch and makes the team harder to guard down stretch.
The Terps opponents may still use zones in hopes of neutralizing Wells late in games, but if they do, Layman has the potential to make them pay.
“I think he made three [3-pointers] for us in the second half,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “And they were all big for us.”
Guard Roddy Peters started back-to-back games for the first time in his career last Thursday and Saturday, and he responded by earning ACC Rookie of the Week.
Peters scored a career-high 14 points against the Eagles to help secure a road win in the Terps’ ACC opener and then tallied two points and five assists against FAU. The Suitland native has a knack for slicing though opposing defenses and finding open teammates near the rim.
Turgeon played Peters just 19 minutes against the Owls because he thought guard Nick Faust allowed the Terps to have more favorable defensive matchups, but he said that he’s pleased with the progress the first-year point guard has made.
“Roddy’s been good; his attitude’s been good,” Turgeon said. “He just keeps getting better.”
Perhaps Peters’ most valuable contribution over the past two games has been the stability he provides to the offense. While presumed starting point guard Seth Allen remains out with a broken foot, the Terps have been prone to turnovers and sloppy offensive possessions.
With Peters serving as the primary ball-handler, those issues seem to be subsiding. Plus, the Terps have been able to move Wells — who slid over to point guard earlier in the year to help fill in for Allen — back over to wing, his natural position.
“I think with Roddy starting everyone’s in their position,” Cleare said. “Roddy is a natural point guard, he’s getting it done for us this year.”