Point guard still Terps’ soft spot

Howard’s absence magnified in games

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There were no indictments of Maryland because of its loss to Illinois on Tuesday, only a statement of the obvious.

There was no need to pillory the Terrapins after a competitive performance featuring the team’s best half in a half-dozen games.

It wasn’t necessary to knock a frontcourt that started strong and produced a career-best performance for junior James Padgett, who scored 16 points.

It would be incorrect to tear into coach Mark Turgeon, who juggled his rotation admirably as Maryland (3-3) entered the final 10 minutes with a chance to topple the unbeaten Illini (7-0) before absorbing a 71-62 loss.

But what would be right would be to acknowledge the truth reinforced in November: The Terps badly miss guard Pe’Shon Howard.

Freshman Nick Faust is a swingman playing out of position. Sophomore Terrell Stoglin, a volume scorer on a team lacking consistently assertive options, would be best utilized off the ball on this particular team.

Both are vital to the Terps. Out of necessity, Turgeon cannot use either in an optimal manner until Howard returns from a broken left foot.

“Our point guard play wasn’t good enough,” Turgeon said. “Nick’s not a point guard. He’s trying as hard as he can. Terrell is a point guard. He’s got to do a little bit better job getting us into our offense. I have to do a little bit better job of figuring out ways to get into our offense besides a ball screen, and I will.”

It’s a great onus on Faust, a 6-foot-6, 175-pound Baltimore native who acknowledged this week he hasn’t played the point much other than occasional looks in AAU ball.

Needless to say, there’s a difference between AAU and an ACC-level program. Faust is one of two players to start every game, but he’s shooting 24.5 percent and has more turnovers (17) than assists (15).

“He’s come into a program, and he’s not a point guard and coach is asking him to be a point guard this year,” Stoglin said. “He’s got to learn, that’s all. He’s young. He’ll be fine.”

Probably so, but Howard’s absence means there will be extended growing pains. Turgeon said this week an MRI exam revealed a break in Howard’s left foot, meaning the sophomore won’t return until the tail end of his initial 8- to-12-week diagnosis.

At best, Howard isn’t expected back until after conference play commences and would be available for roughly half the season. If he misses much beyond that and Maryland continues to hover around .500, the discussion of a possible redshirt year probably arises.

Such a scenario would mean Faust would have to become less of a stopgap and more of a season-long solution - or at least a partial one, with Stoglin still sharing the point guard work.

Nick needs to get his swagger back and all that kind of stuff,” Turgeon said. “He’s air-balling shots, and he’s thinking about it. Nick needs to get to the foul line, he needs to get to the rim. He’s a young kid, and unfortunately it’s hard for him to run a team right now. When Terrell won’t get us into [the offense], I have to go with Nick.”

For all Stoglin didn’t do at times — exercise patience, work the shot clock, take smart shots in the second half — he’s a scoring streak away from giving the Terps a chance to win nearly any contest. He had 25 points Tuesday to surpass the 500-point plateau in just his 39th career contest. The last Terp to get there so quickly was Steve Francis in 30 games in 1998-99.

It’s not the only thing he did rapidly against the Illini.

“I caught myself just trying to rush the ball,” Stoglin said. “Coach pulled me out a couple times and got in my head and told me I needed to slow down.”

That, like Howard’s value to the Terps, also seems obvious just six games into the season if the Terps are to enjoy success in Turgeon’s first year.

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