Maryland enters its final two games needing stability at point guard more than ever, and junior Pe’Shon Howard — who’s had an up-and-down season, to say the least — hopes to build off his solid game Saturday at Wake Forest (eight points, four assists, three rebounds and just two turnovers in 30 minutes).
“Well, it’s one game. I think if he just takes the mind-set of what we’ve talked about, that’ll help us,” Coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday. “It also takes pressure off Seth [Allen], because you can move Seth to the two, and we need Seth to score. I was happy for Pe’Shon. It’s good to see him smiling again. He’s one of our smartest defender, if not our smartest defender. When he’s dialed in defensively, he’s pretty good. It’s a good feeling to know.”
Over the next week, Howard will be assigned Reggie Bullock, North Carolina’s best shooter, and Joe Harris, likely a first-team all-ACC lock who burned Duke for 36 points in Virginia’s home upset of the Blue Devils on Feb. 28. If the Terps go all-in with Howard at point guard, they need the Howard who locked down Wake Forest’s C.J. Harris and asserted himself offensively, not the junior who committed seven turnovers in 14 minutes in Maryland’s first game with North Carolina this season.
“Coach is just looking for Pe’Shon to be more consistent,” freshman Shaq Cleare said. “When he gets going, he gets the whole team going. He’s a great point guard but has to continue to get better. As a starting point guard, I think he can take our team pretty far.”
Until Saturday, Howard’s struggles had been exposed throughout ACC play, magnified by a one-game suspension he served during Maryland’s win over Duke at Comcast Center. Turgeon admitted that Howard had been “in and out of the doghouse.” But after beating the Demon Deacons, Howard expressed his appreciation for Turgeon’s support throughout this season’s trying times.
“What I hope I’ve done with Pe’Shon is realize, outside of his family, there’s somebody who really, truly cares about him, and I’ve helped him grow up a bit,” Turgeon said. “Because he needed to grow up. I’m sure I’ll get a letter from Pe’Shon about 10 years from now, because I get those. When you’re going through it, players don’t necessarily like it, but then all of a sudden you’ll get a letter saying you taught me more than anybody’s taught me in my life besides my parents. That’s what you hope happens with Pe’Shon. It’s time for him to act like he’s at the end of his junior year. I think everyone should know I have their back.”
Turgeon also took umbrage with the suggestion that Howard’s inconsistencies had resulted in rumors of an offseason transfer.
“I hate when people think, just because you’re not playing, people are going to leave,” he said. “That’s just like quitting on us. So hopefully he was never thinking that. I’d be disappointed if he was. But no, he can give us stability there. We’ve been hunting for it all year. We continue to try to do things. I’m happy for him. It was a good game.”
>> Ever since P.J. Hairston began starting and Coach Roy Williams switched to a four-guard lineup, the Tar Heels have caught fire. They’ve won 11 of 14, including five straight since dropping back-to-back games against Miami and Duke.
“It’s totally different,” Turgeon said. “I think they’ll be able to pressure more, which is how [Coach Roy Williams] likes to play. …So then when Hairston and Bullock are shooting the ball well, they’re hard to beat. That’s two key matchups there. I think Hairston’s proven that he’s strong enough to guard a post guy down there. They figured it out.”
It’s a fine line, Turgeon said, between imposing Maryland’s will with size and playing to North Carolina’s advantage with mismatches. The Terps have played four-guard lineups this season, most often a swingman-heavy group with Jake Layman, Dez Wells and Nick Faust, to not totally give up rebounding ability and size.
“We’ll play by our principles,” Turgeon said. “Transition defense is huge, getting to the shooters, knowing who the shooters are, even though all of them can make shots. We’ve worked hard defensively, we’ve been a really good defensive team .We kind of lost our way there for a while, especially at Georgia Tech. This creates a huge challenge for us, obviously. But we’ll play by our principles and hopefully play well. Hopefully we’ll have a great crowd, and we’re going to be fired up tomorrow night.”
>> Turgeon opened his press conference by taking a sarcastic crack at Patrick Stevens, curator of the D1scourse blog who now does bracketology for USA Today. (For background, Turgeon makes a point to tell reporters that he doesn’t read the newspapers, and always insists that Stevens asks the first question in press conferences.)
“I was reading the newspaper, which I never do,” Turgeon said. “I was reading USA Today. I was reading about Gonzaga, and your name’s on it. You’ve gone big time on me all of a sudden. So you too important to ask the first question anymore? I can’t believe you don’t have us in your bracketology, so you might not be able to ask the first question.”
“And for the first time,” Stevens replied, “You’ve read something that I’ve done. I’m touched.”
“I was reading about the other conferences,” Turgeon said.
>> Weathermen have made Turgeon into a liar. At least, that’s what his children think. Turgeon was asked about Wednesday’s possibility of snow, and apparently he hasn’t looked good predicting it in the past.
“You know how hard it is to look my kids in the eye?” he said. “They think I’m full of it. I hope it does snow. I hope it does snow for them so then their dad looks better for them. We’ll see.”