BLACKSBURG, Va. – Seth Allen stammered as he pondered the question, wondering if Saturday afternoon’s game against Virginia Tech had been his best in a Maryland basketball uniform. The sophomore point guard’s eyes darted around the hallway outside the locker room at Cassell Coliseum, as if he was unsure of what he exactly he had done.
“Want to look at the numbers?” a reporter offered, handing over the box score. Allen looked down. He saw a balanced row of crooked numbers, like 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3 of 4 on three-pointers. He saw the seven assists, a season high and one short of his career best, right next to the two turnovers. And, oh yes, five rebounds, too.
“That’s a pretty good stat line,” he said, and then rushed to divert attention away from himself. “But we won by 20, so everybody had a good game. I’m just focused on winning.”
A reasonable perspective, but soon Allen might realize that his success is linked to that of his team. As he continues to work toward full strength and his minutes grow since returning from a broken left foot, Allen has gotten noticeably better each game. His thorough dissection of the Hokies was, so far, the apex.
When Allen was still relegated to crutches, Coach Mark Turgeon spoke about him like he might an old grade-school flame, , an example of what could have been if Allen hadn’t landed awkwardly during and cracked the fifth metatarsal bone, requiring immediate surgery and a recovery that lasted eight weeks. “You didn’t see how good Seth was playing,” Turgeon would say, because summer practices were closed to reporters and no one tagged along to Maryland’s foreign tour to the Bahamas. “He was really playing at a high level.”
Granted, lesser players than Allen have carved up Virginia Tech this season, but much like the Terps viewed their rout as a building block, so too can Allen find confidence in his performance. He reached 30 minutes for just the second time since returning, scored in double figures for the first time since Notre Dame and commanded the offense with a veteran’s presence.
“Like I said, three weeks ago, Seth needs me on him every day,” Turgeon said. “And there were 10 weeks I wasn’t on him, then he came back, his foot was hurt, he was a little bit overweight from his playing weight. It just takes time. Now he’s guarding. I’m on him every day. By him sharing the ball and running our stuff, it makes every feel like they’re a part of it, which is good.”
Dez Wells estimated Allen’s health remained around 70 percent, which seems like a low-balling guess. He hasn’t committed more than two turnovers per game after a high 23.8 percent giveaway rate his freshman season and is handing out assists (28.9 percent versus 20.1 last season) at a faster clip too.
“He’s such a great shooter and a great offensive player. He can take a game over at any time,” Jake Layman said. “Today you saw that. It was good to see him really go off.”
Before Maryland surged ahead in the second half, Allen mostly helped keep a pesky and desperate Hokies group at bay. Back-to-back three-pointers helped buttress a 10-0 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 25-21 advantage. He reached the free throw line, going 3 for 3 there and atoning for the two late misses that helped Miami come back Wednesday, and was confident in pulling up for jumpers in transition.
During his recovery, memories of the summer motivated Allen, who kept a countdown application on his iPhone that ticked down the days to his return date. Now that he’s back and playing better than ever, the application has been turned off but the moments from the preseason still persist, together forming the final benchmark for his progress.
“I definitely want to get back,” Allen said. “Before I got hurt, I think I was playing really well. I was helping everybody, really leading the team. That’s’ what I’m working on, just to get back.”