Pe'Shon Howard

Terps point guard Pe'Shon Howard looks to take a shot during his return to the court Friday night against Radford. (T.J. Root for The Baltimore Sun / December 23, 2011)

COLLEGE PARK — Just a few minutes had elapsed when Maryland coach Mark Turgeon's holiday present emerged from the bench, stretched and entered the game.

It took Pe'Shon Howard — the injured point guard whose return was eagerly awaited by Turgeon — all of four seconds to dish out his first deft pass of the season.

But while Turgeon hopes Howard will be the gift that keeps on giving — he had seven points and three assists Friday night — Maryland struggled before defeating Radford, 65-60.

Forward Ashton Pankey had a career-high 17 points for the Terps (7-3), who have won four in a row but have been making a habit of playing close games against opponents from smaller conferences.

On an off shooting night, the they won this one by holding Radford to just four field goals and 15.4 percent shooting in the second half.

“In the end, we figured out a way to win — again,” said Turgeon, who credited the Terps with better defensive positioning in the second half.

“Coach told us at halftime if we didn't pick up our defense, we were going to lose,” said guard Terrell Stoglin, who scored 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting.

Undersized Radford entered with a nine-game losing streak and a 3-10 mark. The Highlanders were shooting 36 percent for the season.

But this game was as close for the Terps as those that preceded it.

The Comcast Center's overhead video board malfunctioned periodically, and so it seemed, did Maryland's defense, which surrendered 16 first-half points and 22 total to 6-foot freshman guard R.J. Price.

Pankey said the Terps communicated better in the second half in guarding against ball screens.

The game was tied at 46 when the Terps went on a run. Two baskets by Pankey and one by Howard made it 52-46. Although Maryland didn't trail after that, the Highlanders cut the deficit to 61-58 on Price's 3-pointer and called timeout with 1:21 left.

Radford began fouling, and Maryland converted enough free throws to seal the game.

Howard, a slick passer and rugged defender, had missed the season's first nine games with a broken bone in his left foot. He entered with the Terps trailing 6-3 and quickly threw a no-look bounce pass to Sean Mosley (three points), who was fouled and hit one of two free throws.

“My eyes lit up [on the play]. Right back in the flow,” said Howard, who noted that he still has “a lot of catching up to do” but felt no pain in the foot.

Two minutes later, Howard hit his first jump shot of the season to tie the game at 12.

Radford led for much of the first half, but the Terps tied the game at 39 at halftime when Mychal Parker was fouled on a rebound with less than a second remaining and converted a free throw.

Maryland will have center Alex Len available for its next game against Albany on Wednesday. Len had to sit out the first 10 games because he had previously signed a deal with a club team overseas.

“I can't really put into words the difference he'll make,” Howard said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker