GREENSBORO, N.C. --- There was only one thing Pe’Shon Howard could think of as his lone 3-point attempt in Maryland’s ACC tournament opener twirled through the air and eventually through the net.
He laughed, because really, what else could the guard do as an oft-forgettable yet still salvageable junior season approached its conclusion.
Howard had 10 points, his first venture in double figures all season, to help the Terrapins dispatch Wake Forest 75-62 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
This from a guy who fell apart in mid-January and took more than a month to recover.
This from a guy who was suspended for the Terps’ rousing upset of Duke last month.
This from a guy who only recently came to realize coach Mark Turgeon was right, that he was far more important to Maryland’s success than he fully knew.
“He’s kind of being back to himself now, the fun-loving Pe’Shon, dancing and just having a good time,” said guard Logan Aronhalt, whose Terps (21-11) meet second-seeded Duke in Friday’s quarterfinals. “He made some shots tonight and you could see it in his eye how much different of a player he was and how different the game was for him.”
It was a fundamentally different Howard from much of conference play, and he had little difficult pegging Maryland’s Jan. 9 loss to Florida State as the start of his problems.
Howard had three quick turnovers in that game and struggled mightily for the next month. He lost his starting job and soon became an afterthought after a solid two months to open the season --- especially after a disastrous game with no assists, no points and seven turnovers at North Carolina.
“I’m a perfectionist, so I let it get to me early and it was downhill from there,” Howard said. “The crazy thing is we played N.C. State and I played well, so I thought ‘Good, I turned it around.’ I walked into a hurricane in North Carolina. That was something that had never happened before.”
In turn, he never dealt with something quite like that before, either. His sophomore year was bookended with injuries, but in between he helped keep an undermanned Maryland bunch afloat.
There was no such sense of accomplishment to take this time around.
“I felt like I was letting guys down, but instead of turning around and being tough and growing mature up and being mature about it, I was just getting down on myself,” Howard said. “I was like ‘I don’t want to affect them in a negative way,’ so I just kept to myself.”
In half of Maryland’s league games, Howard didn’t score. In two others, he didn’t play. Entering March, he had 26 assists and 22 turnovers against conference opponents, a stark turn for a player who effectively ran the offense early in the season, albeit against weak competition.
Turgeon, though, knew how vital Howard would be for any sort of postseason push for Maryland. In truth, Nick Faust isn’t a point guard. Freshman Seth Allen isn’t ready for those responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Howard just wasn’t himself.
“I wouldn’t say that he lost it,” Allen said. “He just didn’t take advantage of it as much as he could have.”
It started to sink in during Maryland late-season trip to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Turgeon opted to go with a defense-oriented lineup in the latter game, and Howard started for the first time in two months.
And it led to some self-reflection in Howard, who will be the only four-year scholarship senior next season.
“I think so, especially since influence-wise,” Howard said. “That was the main thing I could have done better is just influence my teammates and just be positive for them and support them.”
Better late than never.
“I think he’s getting his swagger back now,” forward Shaquille Cleare said. “Those things, he can do. I think he’s feeling comfortable now in the starting lineup again and I think he’s going to take this team where we need to go.”
--- Patrick Stevens