Maryland’s point guard situation has been somewhat enigmatic this season, which is ironic given that Coach Mark Turgeon’s staff is made up almost entirely of former floor generals. Since leading the ACC in assists during nonconference play, junior Pe’Shon Howard has been inconsistent against conference foes. Freshman Seth Allen is really a shooting guard by trade, so sophomore Nick Faust recently assumed the starting role out of necessity.
During his weekly news conferences, Turgeon has developed something of a catchphrase to explain the inconsistencies plaguing his young squad. As a coach, Turgeon says, he’s “figuring things out.” So what more can be done? Erratic point guard play has compounded offensive problems for Maryland (15-4, 3-3 ACC), which enters Saturday’s matchup against No. 1 Duke (16-2, 3-2) ranked eighth in points per game, 11th in field goal percentage and last in turnover margin in conference play.
Inconsistencies have made standardizing the lineup difficult, so Turgeon still coaches by feel with his 10-deep rotation, tinkering based on situations. And so it happened that sophomore swingman Dez Wells found himself at point guard in the second half Tuesday against Boston College, posting a seven-to-zero assist-to-turnover ratio after halftime, drawing triple-teams from the Eagles off high screens and hitting open teammates.
“Coach Turgeon just wants me to create for other guys,” Wells said. “That’s something I’m good at because I draw so much attention when I drive to the basket. He wants the defense to sag in like they’re going to do, and just kick it out to the guys who can make shots, surround me with shooters. It’s on me to make great decisions. If I don’t do that, then what Coach Turgeon has planned for us won’t work out at all. It’s on me to make good decisions and good passes.”
Having Wells as a screen-and-roll threat, where Maryland’s other point guards aren’t quite as dangerous, allows Turgeon to field a smaller, guard-heavy lineup, stocking shooters such as Jake Layman and Logan Aronhalt in the corners, like the Terps did during their game-deciding run against the Eagles.
“I think he’s going to have the ball more,” Turgeon said of Wells. “Is he going to start at point guard? No. Because that would just flat wear him out as the game goes on. There will be certain situations, certain lineups, certain plays we call when he has the ball. If he starts to look tired, we’ll go in another direction.”
The other direction would be either Faust, who has started the past three games at point guard, or Howard, the junior who figures to defend Blue Devils gunner Seth Curry. Howard’s numbers have dipped since ACC play began on Jan. 5, culminating in seven turnovers and zero assists over 14 minutes at North Carolina last weekend, but Turgeon stood by his team captain, calling that performance an aberration.
Howard started 13 of Maryland’s first 14 games this season but has come off the bench for the past four. Since posting at least six assists eight times before the end of December, he’s done it just once. But with the Terps’ young weapons around him improving, Turgeon has told Howard to simply run the offense and avoid mistakes.
“When Pe’Shon’s confident, I feel confident that he gets us into our stuff and helps us run our offense a lot more smoothly,” Turgeon said. “I think he played 20 minutes the other night, and they were 20 pretty good minutes. Did he make any shots? No, but I thought he defended well when he was in there and ran our offense well.
“That’s really what he needs to concentrate on, and not get caught up in what his shooting percentage is. Because that really doesn’t matter. We’re 15-4 without him making a shot. So he doesn’t need to make shots for us to be successful.”
Stealing one of its two straight road games at Duke and Florida State would do wonders for Maryland entering February, and it would put them one step closer toward becoming a successful road team. The Terps have struggled away from College Park, capped off by a miserable first half last weekend in Chapel Hill. Now they return to Tobacco Road, meeting a hungry and likely peeved Blue Devils bunch that got demolished at Miami this week, looking to frustrate Duke’s shooters and keep things close in hostile territory.
And at point guard? Well, they’ll just keep trying to figure it out.
“We have a play where the guy with the ball at the top of the key, the big just keeps rescreening for him,” Faust said. “Whoever coach wants to attack at that time, that’s who we give the ball to.”