Maryland guard Pe’Shon Howard played for the first time all season Friday. It did not solve all of the Terrapins’ troubles.
Freshman center Alex Len will debut next week. He, too, is unlikely to prove a complete panacea.
Maryland is unquestionably better with two more scholarship players. Howard is more of a known quantity, and provided a lift in a 65-60 defeat of Radford. Len is a less known variable, though he will help fortify the Terps’ frontcourt.
Neither, though, is an elixir to make everything perfect for Maryland (7-3).
“We’re starting over,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s a guessing game. I feel like we’re starting over.”
It’s especially true for a man who repeatedly says he coaches by feel. Most of the time, a rotation is set once nonconference play winds to a close. Turgeon’s just getting started at figuring out how Maryland will look.
One thing was clear from the Terps’ latest home scare: Howard will be a big part of the Terps’ identity going forward.
The sophomore, who suffered a broken foot in October and missed eight weeks, didn’t start against the Highlanders (3-11). But he was in within three minutes, receiving a solid ovation from the half-capacity crowd.
More telling: He logged 32 minutes, more than any Terp besides Terrell Stoglin.
Most telling: He checked with 11:32 left in the second half and never came back out.
The points (seven) and assists (three) and the no-look passes (one right out of the chute) were helpful. The long stint, though, revealed plenty about a player who said he was unsurprised with the work asked of him.
“It was kind a test for myself, too, just seeing how far we could push it,” Howard said.
In Turgeon’s ideal scenario, he would probably ease Howard back into the lineup. Ten minutes here, another 15 there. Three more games remain before the Terps’ Jan. 8 ACC opener at N.C. State, more than enough time to re-acclimate the starting point guard.
Except there isn’t a ton ideal about the Terps’ predicament. Maryland hasn’t won a game by double figures yet, which doesn’t detract from a four-game winning streak but is hardly eye-catching, either.
Howard, as well as he fared for a guy playing his first college game in nine months, didn’t summon the mojo for a blowout. Radford, which has not defeated a Division I team since Nov. 11, shot well from the perimeter in the first half before making only four shots from the floor after the break.
Maryland’s offense didn’t fare much in the final 20 minutes, though it eventually busted the Highlanders’ zone enough to score six straight points and create a needed cushion midway through the second half.
Howard, for his part, wasn’t quite as sharp as he was for much of last year. He also was less than a week removed from being fully cleared; the missteps were understandable.
“The timing was a little off,” Howard said. “It felt great in practice, so I was surprised the timing was off a little bit in the game. It was the first game so I kind of expected it, but I got frustrated because I thought I could do better.”
He probably will in the next two weeks, and his value to Maryland is certain to grow. With only eight – soon to be nine – recruited scholarship players available, he’ll make life easier for teammates and Turgeon.
Howard, though, doesn’t solve everything ailing the Terps, and certainly not instantaneously. As Turgeon knows all too well by now, there are no easy answers or quick fixes for his first team in College Park.
“I played him too much but I had to,” Turgeon said. “His legs went, and he couldn’t get to the rim there late. It’s hard. This is hard. I’ve had teams that didn’t win that flowed better than this is flowing. I know we’ve won a few in a row, but we’re still just trying to find ourselves. We’re going to add another guy next week, and here we go again.”