The most spirited cheers at Comcast Center on Friday night came less than three minutes into Maryland’s game against Radford, when Pe’Shon Howard made his long-awaited debut after being sidelined by a broken left foot since the season began.
Howard assumed his role as the Terrapins’ primary point guard with relative ease, firing a no-look pass and hitting the first two shots he attempted.
But for the third time in as many games, Maryland struggled mightily to defeat the sort of mid-major opponent that ought to signify an easy victory in a soft part of the schedule.
The Terps prevailed, 65-60, to extend their winning streak to four games and improve their record to 7-3. But it was difficult to see appreciable improvement on offense, with Maryland shooting just 36.8 percent from the field and 23.1 percent (3 of 13) from three-point range.
Sophomore Terrell Stoglin and freshman Nick Faust, the Terps’ best shooters, made just seven of their 26 shots from the field. With all of Maryland’s guards battling shooting woes, the Terps leaned on their big men for high-percentage shots and the rebounds that created critical second-chance opportunities.
Redshirt freshman Ashton Pankey led the Terps with 17 points. Stoglin added 15 on 5-of-18 shooting and forward James Padgett scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
“In the end, we figured out a way to win again,” said Coach Mark Turgeon, conceding that the four-guard lineup he employed much of the game, which consisted of senior Sean Mosley, Stoglin, Howard and Faust, didn’t look very impressive. Nonethless, Turgeon said fans could expect to see more of that guard-heavy lineup as the season unfolds.
“As a coach, you’ve got to play your best players,” Turgeon added. “Right now, I thought our small lineup was best.”
Radford (3-11) shouldn’t have been a particular challenge, arriving in College Park on a nine-game losing streak that included a 44-point defeat at Kentucky and a 31-point defeat at Cincinnati.
But with its freshman Javonte Green erupting for 11 quick points, Radford bolted to an early lead, shooting well above its season average of 36 percent from the field.
Maryland did well to pull even, 39-39, at the break.
And Turgeon warned his players that if they didn’t pick up the pace on defense, they were going to lose.
While the Terps’ offensive woes continued in the second half (they shot just 25 percent in the period), they held Radford to four field goals in the second half and pulled away in the final 10 minutes.
Howard was all smiles afterward, insisting that he felt no pain in his foot but did get a bit frustrated that his timing was not what he’d like it to be.
Turgeon likened the addition of Howard to the mix — and the ripple effect that has on the roles of Faust, Mosley and Stoglin — to rebuilding the team from scratch.
“When you add Pe’Shon, you’re starting over,” Turgeon said. “It’s a guessing game. I feel like we’re starting over. But we played with poise, and we executed down the stretch.”
Howard entered the game with Maryland trailing 6-3, after Faust tossed up a wildly errant jumper, and hit pulled Maryland even at 12 with his first shot.
The lead rocked back and forth throughout the period, with Radford’s guards repeatedly getting unobstructed looks at the basket.
Stoglin hit back-to-back jumpers to pull Maryland within three points, 39-36.
A put-back by Faust, followed by a free throw by Mychal Parker, tied it just before the break.
Maryland opened the second half 0 for 7 from the field.
Berend Weijs entered the game and made some key defensive stops.
And with just under 10 minutes to play, Maryland’s comeback began, with Pankey getting two dunks that roused the crowd of 9,979 and Howard driving for a layup.