Along with Dez Wells scoring 23 points in Saturday’s 10-point win at Wake Forest, the most important contribution came from junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard.
The much-maligned Howard, who has spent most of the Atlantic Coast Conference season “in and out” of Mark Turgeon’s doghouse, made his first start in nearly two months and wound up playing a team-high 30 minutes. Howard finished with eight points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals and only two turnovers.
Howard also a played a significant role in C.J. Harris, Wake Forest’s leading scorer and a former AAU teammate of Howard’s on a team sponsored by former Demon Deacons star and current Los Angeles Clippers All-Pro Chris Paul, shooting 5 of 16 from the field.
On Monday’s Atlantic Coast Conference teleconference, I asked Turgeon if he was surprised at how well -- and how long -- Howard played coming off games against Clemson and Georgia Tech when he totaled just 15 minutes.
“I was a little surprised how well he played for 30 minutes, yeah, I was pleasantly surprised,” Turgeon said. “His endurance was good, he continued to guard. Didn’t seem to get tired. He got a little tired defensively. We were able to rest him when we had the lead for three or four minutes in the second half. He took care of the ball for the most part, made good decisions, got us into our offense, was talking out there, communicating, which we’re not great at sometimes, so it was good.”
Turgeon said that his issues with Howard date back to last summer, but that unlike the coach’s relationship with former Terps guard Terrell Stoglin, this one seems fixable. If Howard finishes the season on a good note, it could help Turgeon ease incoming freshman Roddy Peters’ transition to the program next season.
“I’ve been extremely patient with him since the summer,” Turgeon said of Howard. “When I told the team that the best defenders were going to start at Wake Forest, he sat right up in his seat. He knows he’s one of our better defenders. I said, ‘I’m going to base our decisions on defense, not who can make a shot.’ And so I think right away he was in tune to what we were going to do.
“It’s been no fun for him. It’s been up and down, in and out of the doghouse. But he responded. Which was good to see. It was good to see him smile again. I kept telling him, ‘Pe’Shon, you‘re so important to this team, you have no idea.’ He was mentally not where he needed to be and Saturday he got mentally back into it and hopefully he’ll finish the year that way.”