Erratic season leads to tough lessons for Terps' Pe'Shon Howard

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Terps guard Pe'Shon Howard dribbles against the Miami Hurricanes in January.

COLLEGE PARK — — If it has been a roller coaster season in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Maryland basketball team the past two months, junior point guard Pe'Shon Howard might be the poster child for the erratic Terps.

Howard has gone from being a team captain who started all but one of Maryland's first 15 games to a player who was stripped of his captaincy, suspended for the team's win over then No. 2 Duke and reduced to playing only more than the walk-ons in two recent games against Clemson and Georgia Tech.

Now, suddenly, all is forgiven — if not quite forgotten. A spirited defensive presence in practice last week before the Wake Forest game put Howard back in the starting lineup for the first time in nearly two months.

A solid 30-minute performance in a 10-point win over the Demon Deacons on Saturday in Winston Salem, N.C. — only Maryland's second ACC road victory this season and third overall — will likely give Howard another start Wednesday when Maryland (20-9, 8-8 in the ACC) hosts North Carolina (21-8, 11-5).

Once among the nation's leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio early this season, Howard's numbers began to reverse once ACC play started, including a nightmarish seven turnovers, with no assists or points, in just 14 minutes of a loss at North Carolina on Jan. 19.

Second-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday that he started to see Howard's confidence begin to sag during a three-point home loss to Florida State on Jan. 9. It turned out to be the last game Howard started before Saturday.

"He turned it over the first couple of possessions, that's when I remember him not being the same," Turgeon said. "The competition got better. So he had to adjust to it. I just think he was putting so much pressure on himself to make a shot and then it started to do other things.

"He has a nice shot, we might see it tomorrow night, who knows? But what he's been through, he has to realize he has to be who he is, a great defender and a guy who can get us into our offense, communicate and hopefully become a good leader the rest of his career."

Howard played that role last Saturday. With sophomore center Alex Len and sophomore swingman Dez Wells in foul trouble, Howard helped the Terps survive until Wells took over. Howard finished with eight points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and only two turnovers.

Asked afterward what the past two months had been like, Howard didn't gloss over the challenges as he talked to reporters for the first time since late December.

"It's just been up and down, but one thing like with coach, he's done a great job just communicating with me, he's always had my back," Howard said. "He just told me to get it together and once I get on the court make sure I play well."

Recalling a conversation he had with Howard after lifting the suspension, Turgeon said Monday, "I kept telling him, 'Pe'Shon, you're so important to this team, you have no idea.' Mentally he just wasn't where he needed to be and Saturday he got mentally back into it and hopefully he'll finish the year that way."

Turgeon has said that he gave Howard the start at Wake Forest after the defense he played in practice followed an 11-point loss at Georgia Tech. Howard kept it going in the game against the Demon Deacons, contributing to senior guard C.J. Harris missing 11 of the 16 shots.

It came after Howard had been reduced to 15 minutes in the team's previous two games. The seven minutes he got in a win over Clemson on Feb. 23 were the fewest he received since coming to Maryland three years ago out of Oak Hill.

With speculation about whether Howard would remain at Maryland if his role next season was further marginalized, his sudden re-emergence allows Turgeon to play Seth Allen and Nick Faust at shooting guard.

"I think it takes pressure off Seth, because we can move Seth to [shooting guard] because we need Seth to score because he can score," Turgeon said.

Though not looking past this season, Turgeon understands the ramifications of having a player with Howard's experience heading into next season, when highly-touted recruit Roddy Peters arrives as the team's point guard of the future.

"I hate when people think, just because you're not playing, people are going to leave, it's like quitting," Turgeon said. "Hopefully he was never thinking that, I'd be disappointed if he was. He can give us stability there, we've been hunting for it all year."

Howard seems to have a much better relationship with Turgeon than many expect given what has transpired this season.

"He's always had confidence in me, he's always let me know that, so that's one thing I appreciate with coach," Howard said Saturday. "A lot of coaches kind of shun you off when you're not on the court. He did a great job of keeping me positive and making sure I was ready to play and putting me confidence in me."

Turgeon said Tuesday that he wouldn't be surprised to get a letter someday from Howard, a decade down the line, as he has from other players he coached through tough moments, thanking him for what he did.

If the suspension for the Duke game served as a wake-up call, Howard's performance Saturday might be a starting point.

"What I hope what I've done with Pe'Shon is make him realize that outside his family, there's someone else who really, truly cares about him," Turgeon said. "I hope I've helped him grow up a little bit, because he needed to grow up…That's what you hope happens with Pe'Shon, the light bulb goes on and to act like it's almost the end of his junior year."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.