Roddy Peters had his man alone on an island, dribble picked up, dead to rights. His long arms were swarming and the ballhandler had nowhere to go. Finally, with little else to do, the player rose up and shot. Peters blocked it easily.
“No good,” the point guard shouted, clapping once as the basketball tumbled harmlessly into the paint. “Good D.”
Encouraging defensive moments like this have been difficult for Peters to unearth during his rookie season, and this particular one didn’t even matter. It happened Friday afternoon after practice, during a spirited one-on-one matchup against former Maryland guard and current graduate assistant Eric Hayes, when all the other Terrapins had either left or were conducting interviews, so Peters was left to work on what was lacking.
Over the past two games, Peters has played just 18 total minutes, a mark he had matched or eclipsed in 15 of 17 games before that. He has been held scoreless for the first and second times this season and his other numbers (one assist, one turnover, one rebound) have been entirely forgettable, but as the post-practice workout session unfolded, filled with smiles and laughs and compliments barked to no one in particular, you wouldn’t have even known.
“I just try to take him under my wing and make sure he knows, regardless of whether you play good or whether you play bad, I still love you and I’m still here for you,” guard Dez Wells said. “He’s going to play a lot worse than he has throughout the season, but it’s about not being too high or too low.”
Peters’s drought has come under varying circumstances. Against Notre Dame’s zone defense on Jan. 15, his poor outside shooting — Peters has attempted just six three-pointers this season and is shooting worse than 20 percent on two-point jumpers – rendered him basically useless. Monday night at North Carolina State, Coach Mark Turgeon found that Peters wasn’t executing the game plan, so he benched the once-prized recruit.
“The last game was just because he wasn’t doing what I was asking,” Turgeon said. “That pretty blunt?”
Instead, with starting point guard Seth Allen in foul trouble, Turgeon turned to Wells and Nick Faust to run the offense, which suffered accordingly. But Turgeon said Friday that he would rather bench players who weren’t listening and lose the game than compromise what he believed was right. Still, he expressed confidence in Peters, who in flashes has proven himself to be an electric Division I point guard and ranks in the top 100 nationally in assist rate.
“Guys got to do what they’re asked,” Turgeon said. “That’s about as blunt as I could be with that. Got a lot of confidence in Roddy. He’s had a great freshman year, much better than I was expecting, and we need him. We need him to play well.”
As the cameras swarmed Turgeon, Peters seemed oblivious to the scrum while working on his pull-up jumper. Teams have been sagging off him for weeks now, aware that he either drives to the hoop or passes, with little outside threat existing in between. He excels at attacking the rim – his 61.4 percent conversion rate there ranks best among Maryland’s perimeter players, according to Hoop-Math.com – but needs to diversify his portfolio with something other than a layup.
“People are guarding him at the free throw line,” Wells said. “I wish people would guard me like that. If people guard him at the free throw line, give them one move to rhythm yourself up and take that shot. We believe in you, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t believe in yourself. You have to come out there aggressive and ready to make plays.
“And just because they play off doesn’t mean you have to shoot it every time. You have to know what’s good for the team and that comes with his IQ, which is developing and becoming really, really great as we get along in the season. I feel he’ll be a really good addition once he starts knocking down that shot and I feel like the sky’s the limit once he gets his confidence in his shot.”
Behind Wells, Peters had replaced Hayes with a student manager, who was guarding him as he danced around the perimeter and pulled up for short shots. Allen’s return has relegated Peters to the bench over the past two games, but if he can curb his 31.7 percent turnover rate and eliminate the mistakes that have chopped his minutes in half, Peters can find himself contributing once again.
“He’s making them right now so I hope that helps,” Wells said as shot after shot dropped through the net. “I hope that helps, man.”