Seth Allen dived onto the floor for a loose ball Sunday night and came up staring at the bench, all but asking for a substitution. When he returned to the sideline, gingerly jogging off the court, trainer Matt Charvat took a knee and asked him some questions. Allen had spent eight weeks receiving treatment for his broken foot, running on anti-gravity treadmills and waiting for this big comeback date, so how could he have suffered a setback so soon?
Turns out it was all routine, from the checkup to the heat pad Allen slid over his left foot, where the once-broken fifth metatarsal bone had finally healed. He was only supposed to play “a few” minutes during Maryland’s 85-74 win over Tulsa, but when the situation demanded it, the sophomore point guard kept going.
“Somebody dove on me when I dove for the ball and they hit it,” Allen said later. “It was a little sore, but it’s fine. It was just ringing a little bit. I put a heat pad back on it and went back in.”
After Allen finished postgame interviews, surrounded by cameras documenting his big 15-point return, he headed straight for the ice bath, part of Maryland’s meticulous recovery process. He planned to soak the foot for several minutes, head to his apartment, fall asleep, wake up and receive more treatment. He didn’t want to mess around with a recently broken foot, least of all with another game less than 48 hours away.
“It’ll all be recovery, treatment, maintenance on my foot,” he said. “My foot feels great though.”
In some ways, how Allen responds in the buildup to the New Years’ Eve matchup with North Carolina Central will be even more challenging than the long climb to his season debut. He was cleared to practice Friday afternoon, worked out that day and then again — at a higher speed in a more game-like setting — on Saturday morning. That day, Coach Mark Turgeon told reporters that he would monitor Allen’s soreness, only playing him if he experienced anything substantial the following morning.
Turgeon made the final call on Sunday afternoon, releasing the news through a team spokesman as Terrapins fans began to clamor for the return of their starting point guard. They offered him a standing ovation when he checked into the game against Tulsa, and for each three-pointer or dazzling move to the basket, gave him a hearty applause.
But how will Allen react to 21 minutes of rigorous action? How much more sore will he be after playing at least 10 minutes in each half? On his final meaningful possession – he later entered as a defensive-only substitute for one late series – Allen missed a layup at the rim in transition then struggled back onto defense, feebly contesting several three-pointers and allowing long rebounds to squirt by him. Sensing fatigue, Turgeon pulled him for freshman Roddy Peters and allowed Allen to rest as Maryland closed out the win.
“Probably a few more minutes than I wanted to play him,” Turgeon said. “It really affected his defense more than anything, just pushing off and having confidence to push off. But I knew he was going to play well.”
That, ultimately, will be the biggest takeaway from Allen’s debut, which happened right around eight weeks after his injury, the earliest possible time to return. He and Turgeon had an ongoing dialogue during the game, and Allen felt comfortable asking for a sub when needed, which often came when his lack of conditioning caught up. It may take weeks before Allen returns to his pre-injury self – “He was playing at such a high level,” Turgeon said, a sentence he has repeated several times since Allen got hurt – but the North Carolina Central game might be the biggest test yet, when the thrill of a comeback subsides and recovery becomes even more essential to his future.
“It’s just a blessing to get back this early,” he said. “I’ll take it. I’ll take it.”