COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Gary Williams had to be having flashbacks for much of the second half Wednesday night.
Maryland hadn’t played the College of Charleston since 1997, a disappointing first-round upset that sent senior — and current assistant coach — Keith Booth and the Terps home early in the NCAA Tournament.
Current freshman Pe’Shon Howard was only six years old at the time, but his game-winning shot with 4.6 seconds left prevented lightning from striking twice in a thrilling 75-74 win over the Cougars. The point guard scored 14 points and handed out four assists on the night, but no shot was bigger than the falling-away jumper he took after Charleston double-teamed center Jordan Williams in the closing seconds.
“I knew I took care of the ball [on the last possession], so I know I got a good shot,” Howard said. “And I’m just glad it went in.”
Though a November loss for an inexperienced team would not have had the same crushing impact as that defeat in mid-March 13 years ago, it’s never good losing to a non-conference opponent on your home floor. Just ask the Terps, who have fallen victim several times in recent seasons, including once to William & Mary last season despite going on to win a share of the ACC regular season title.
With three seniors graduating from that championship team, including ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez, the question of who would emerge with the Terrapins trailing by six with less than three minutes to go begged to be asked.
No one expected the answer received, however, as Howard didn’t blink in his second collegiate game. The freshman from Oak Hill Academy played the point for much of the second half and was entrusted with the ball after senior Adrian Bowie left with an undisclosed injury at the 3:27 mark. With Maryland trailing 74-68 with 2:42 remaining, Howard hit two field goals to lead a 7-0 run to close the game.
“He never flinched, and that is hard to do as a freshman,” the coach said. “He is a great point guard. I really trust him, and he has confidence in himself. He worked, he scored, and that is great for his confidence. He wanted to come to Maryland for a long time, and he has high goals for himself and the team.”
Before Howard’s heroic moment, Williams was the star of the night in the paint for Maryland, scoring 26 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. For much of the evening, Williams and Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock (27 points) put on an impressive show at opposite ends of the floor. Cougars coach Bobby Cremins’ team led from the 10:30 mark in the second half until Howard’s shot, looking more like one of the teams Cremins coached as the head man at Georgia Tech against the Terps over a decade ago.
Much will be said about Maryland’s struggles against a Southern Conference team that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1999, but most expected an uneven season for a transitioning Maryland squad that includes six newcomers. The Terps will undoubtedly need to work on their foul-shooting (5-for-18 on the night), a major factor why the Cougars led for much of the second half.
We learned Wednesday the Terps may have found a gem in the 19-year-old from Los Angeles. Perhaps more impressive than his game-winning shot is his work ethic and tenacity. Instead of basking in the glow of being the big man on campus, Howard was practicing his free-throw shooting (1-for-5 from the line Wednesday night) for over 30 minutes after the victory on the Comcast Center floor — at the same end where he hit the game-winner.
He was certainly smiling — as were the rest of the Terps — but you get the sense the freshman believes he’s only scratching the surface.
“It was a great game to get early in the season, but we have a long way to go.”
Howard raised eyebrows in fall practice when he took Vasquez’s No. 21 jersey only months after the senior graduated. His strength and passion has drawn comparisons to a young Vasquez by some, and his heroic shot was an early, convincing statement trying to justify his jersey number choice.
“Right when I made [that shot], I knew that was going to be a big deal, a lot of people talking about [Vasquez’s number],” Howard said. “It’s just fun; I’m going along with it and just taking it all in stride.”
Time will tell whether Howard’s shot will prove more an anomaly than an opening chapter to greatness in College Park, but it was the exact kind of moment Maryland fans are looking forward to this season — a hint for a bright future.
The win over Charleston easily could have been another shocking loss to Morgan State, Ohio, or American like we’ve seen the last few seasons, but the Terps made sure it didn’t happen despite their deficiencies throughout the night.
“Our players fought through a lot of adversity like throwing the ball away a couple of times and poor free-throw shooting,” Williams said. “These were reasons we should not have won the game, and I am very proud of this team.”
NOTES: The sophomore Williams earned several career highs, including points (26), field goals (12), and tied his career high with two steals. … Maryland outscored the Cougars in the paint, 56-26. … There were 13 ties and four lead changes in the game. … When Goudelock made a 3-pointer to give Charleston its largest lead at 37-28 with 2:32 left, the Terps went on a 9-0 run to close the first half and tie the game. … Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Howard, Gary Williams, Jordan Williams, and Cliff Tucker following the 75-74 win at Comcast Center.