Roddy Peters attacked the zone like a figure skater, gliding and weaving through the lane with impeccable body control. He stutter-stepped around defenders. He contorted his wiry frame toward the hoop. He fired no-look passes and scooped finger-roll layups. He was, in an embarrassing 90-83 loss to Oregon State on Sunday night, one of the Maryland basketball team’s lone bright spots.
“He’s doing great,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “I was really proud of him.”
The freshman’s 10-point, six-assist performance reinforced what increasingly seems like the inevitable in College Park: Until Seth Allen returns from his broken foot in early January, Peters has become the team’s best option at point guard.
“Roddy played big,” Dez Wells said. “That’s how he competes, that’s how he’s capable of playing every night. He’s really gotten comfortable with the college speed of the game, things like that. We all knew Roddy was going to come out. We’re waiting for him to blossom.”
Hearing Wells speak like this, it seems the junior wouldn’t have any problem with the move, either. He has started three games for the Terrapins at point guard, each one removing the dangerous slasher from his native position. Against the Beavers, Wells scored a season-high 23 points, reaching the free-throw line four times and notching 16 points after halftime, but many of those buckets came on possessions alongside Peters. With the rookie running the show, Wells could operate free of restrictions.
On Friday, Maryland will face Marist in the U.S. Virgin Islands at the Paradise Jam, with two more games in the following three days. As Turgeon continues to search for remedies to the point guard situation, the beach-side tournament might welcome an experimental opportunity by starting Peters.
Of course, this would create a domino effect throughout the starting lineup. Wells and Jake Layman (15 points) aren’t headed to the bench, and 6-foot-10 forward Evan Smotrycz, despite four turnovers, had 16 points on 3 of 6 three-pointers and remains a matchup nightmare on the wing.
That leaves Nick Faust, who has started 46 games over the past three seasons for Turgeon, and to whom the third-year coach seems to have a loyalty for sticking around during the regime change. The high-volume junior guard could provide a scoring spark off the bench, but switching Faust for Peters would sacrifice the player Turgeon views as the team’s go-to perimeter defender for someone whose praise is always couched in defensive criticism.
“I thought his defense was better tonight,” Turgeon said. “We’d go press, back to press, then one time Roddy was by [guard Roberto Nelson], didn’t take on the challenge. Ran away from him and we left him wide open. There’s a lot of things. Our guys just got to be more committed to getting better quickly. You can’t keep making the same mistakes, but I was proud of Roddy. He was excited about the crowd and he played well. He’s going to be a great one for us.”
Peters had little trouble knifing through Oregon State’s zone, but how will he fare against quicker man-to-man teams built not on spacing but ball pressure? How, for instance, would a starting Peters handle Ohio State turnover machine Aaron Craft during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 4? He committed just two turnovers against Oregon State, once making an ill-advised no-look pass in traffic — the same pass he completed for easy dunks several times — and another time losing the basketball against the press.
Maryland’s struggles Sunday extended far beyond the point guard situation. Its post defense was abysmal and Oregon State turned 15 turnovers into 29 points. But ever since Allen went down the point guard narrative fell beneath the spotlight, and it will continue to remain under scrutiny until a solution surfaces. In the wake of arguably Turgeon’s worst loss since he arrived in College Park — against a sub-100 RPI team, at home, with realistic NCAA expectations surrounding the squad — fans and reporters began clamoring for Peters to overtake the reins and let Wells endanger opponents from the wing.
“He’s really close,” Layman said of Peters. “With him, when he’s aggressive, it helps us out a lot. Sometimes he gets too aggressive and makes some bad plays. Once he figures it out, then I think he’ll be fine. He has some bad turnovers down the stretch tonight, but he’s going to learn from it. I think it’ll show throughout the season.”
Said Wells: “He’s coming along really well, but you guys haven’t seen nearly his potential as far as him being a good point guard yet.”