Howard’s loss represents a major setback for the Terrapins (14-9, 4-5 ACC), who have scrapped and hustled all season to overcome the challenges of an often short-handed and largely inexperienced roster.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we’ll overcome it,” Turgeon said after a line of grim-faced Maryland players boarded the team bus. “You just have got to figure it out. Someone will step up; they’ll get opportunities. We just have to figure out how we’re going to do that, and who’s going to be the one that steps up for us.”
Howard missed the first nine games of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot in late October, but he threw himself into his rehabilitation to beat the timetable doctors had set for his recovery by roughly four weeks.
In a statement released by the university late Friday, Turgeon expressed sympathy for Howard and appreciation for the efforts he had made to rebound from his earlier injury and contribute to the team’s success.
“We’re heartbroken for Pe’Shon,” Turgeon said in the statement. “He has done everything we’ve asked of him this season, and he was playing very well. Obviously it’s been a tough year for him, but he’s a great kid.”
While Howard was sidelined by the broken foot in the season’s early going, Turgeon shifted point guard duties to shooting guard Terrell Stoglin and freshman Nick Faust, alternating between the two as circumstance dictated.
It was the best option, but hardly ideal for either player. Stoglin is the Terrapins’ most gifted shooter, and Faust hadn’t played point guard since grade school. Both were unabashedly relieved and grateful when Howard returned to the lineup against Radford on Dec. 23 to lift the responsibility from their shoulders, playing 32 minutes in his season debut.
Before departing for North Carolina, Turgeon said he was still absorbing the news of Howard’s injury, which was confirmed by an MRI exam late Friday, and figuring out how to adjust his lineup.
“Right now, it’s so fresh and raw that we’re just trying to get through that part of it,” Turgeon said. “We’re going to try different things tomorrow to try to help playing without Pe’Shon.
Turgeon added that his tentative plan for Saturday was to start Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer (22 points per game), at point guard; start Faust at shooting guard; and use senior Sean Mosley at the small forward spot.
In his 14 games for the Terrapins this season, Howard averaged 32.9 minutes, 6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and a team-high 3.7 assists per game. He also was the team’s most active defender, routinely assigned to the opponent’s best player.
Saturday against Duke (20-4, 7-2), Howard’s loss will be felt most acutely on defense.
In the teams’ Jan. 25 meeting at Comcast Center, Maryland led by eight points in the first half and kept the game within reach until the last three minutes primarily by shutting down Duke’s perimeter game, holding the Blue Devils to just three three-pointers and their leading scorer, freshman Austin Rivers, to 10 points.
Duke closed with a 74-61 victory, however, by leaning on the strong inside play of 6-foot-10 junior forward Mason Plumlee, who had a game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Against North Carolina’s more lax perimeter defense on Wednesday, Rivers scored a career-high 29 points and the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to lead Duke to an 85-84 win. Duke made 14 three-pointers in the game.