Something clicked for Seth Allen when bonus basketball came, and maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision for Maryland’s starting point guard. He had been his usual self for 40 minutes, alternating absurdly athletic sieges on the paint with questionably quick shots early in possessions. But when those final five minutes rolled around and the Terrapins needed someone to lift them up after their hearts had dropped through their stomachs, there he was, filling the play-by-play like this:
GOOD! LAYUP by Seth Allen
GOOD! LAYUP by Seth Allen
BLOCK by Seth Allen
GOOD! FT SHOT by Seth Allen
In less than three minutes, Allen turned a tied game into a five-point Maryland lead, which his team never relinquished in upsetting No. 5 Virginia on Sunday afternoon. While impressive, the performance unlike some of Allen’s better games in a Terps uniform. He made just two three-pointers and missed 10 shots altogether. But at the biggest moment, Allen was exactly the point guard Maryland needed him to be.
The Cavaliers had no answer for Allen, no one fast enough to halt his penetration. He shimmied and shook and spun past anyone thrown at him, and when Virginia’s big men stepped over to help, it always seemed like, at least in overtime, they were a step too late. “He came out and took over from the start,” forward Jake Layman said. “It was great to see.”
On the sidelines, Coach Mark Turgeon felt something similar. He has called coaching Allen a “constant battle,” insofar as Allen continues to attempt rushed three-point attempts early in the shot clock when, in Turgeon’s mind, pulling the ball back out and running the offense would be more efficient.
The battle hasn’t been contentious by any means, but surely frustrating for all parties. Yet Allen has played with a long leash since he returned from a broken foot, and slowly he has grown into a better point guard. In 19 games this season, he has committed more than three turnovers once and bettered his freshman assist-to-turnover ratio by about a half-assist per game.
“He’s still learning how to play, learning the game, learning situations,” Turgeon said on Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference, one day after Allen scored a game-high 20 points. “Not only does he have to do that, but he has to run the team. It’s not natural for him. It’s been a process.”
Last week, Turgeon said, he and Allen met. He declined to discuss specifics, but said whatever happened “carried over.” Against Virginia, Allen passed up several threes to attack the rim, getting defenders off their feet with a pump fake, and using his shiftiness to compensate for his size once traffic hit.
“That’s the whole thing, realizing when he’s being guarded or when he’s not being guarded, realizing when he has an angle or doesn’t,” Turgeon said. “That’s the key for his decision-making. It’s a process, but it continues to get better.”
The widespread assumption for the future is that incoming McDonalds all-American Melo Trimble will arrive this summer with an immediate stranglehold on the starting point guard, and that may yet prove true. Allen is a natural scorer, comfortable off the ball with someone else running the show and letting him work.
But he still feels most comfortable with the basketball in his hands on most possessions. According to Hoop-Math.com, Allen has made 27 shots at the rim this season. One of them has been assisted. His 62.2 percent assisted three-pointers rate is also lowest on the team.
With the ACC tournament ahead and likely the National Invitational Tournament behind that, Allen will have plenty more chances to improve upon a season already cut short by injury. If Trimble usurps the starting role, so be it, because it will be hard to keep a 13.2 points-per-game scorer off the floor next season. Besides, the overtime period against Virginia offered a glimpse of Allen’s capabilities, especially when it comes supported by the self-awareness that made him excel.
“We were in the moment,” he said after. “We were just playing basketball.”