COLLEGE PARK, Md. — There wasn’t much said about the “coaches’ decision” that saw University of Maryland F Ashton Pankey log just one minute in the Terrapins’ 78-71 win over Notre Dame December 4 in the BB&T Classic.
Head Coach Mark Turgeon never elaborated much about the reasons why he limited Pankey’s play, and the redshirt freshman kept tight lips both in the media and on Twitter. The only thing that was clear from both parties was frustration.
“Sometimes as a coach you have to do the things you have to do to get guys to do what they’re supposed to do” head coach Mark Turgeon told reporters following the Terps’ 65-61 win over Florida International University Wednesday night at Comcast Center. “I’m proud of Ashton. He could have reacted a different way, but he’s reacted the right way. It started in practice after the Notre Dame game and he’s been good.”
After what Pankey said could be fairly described as a “wake up call”, the young man from The Bronx, New York posted his second straight 13 point performance as the Terps (6-3) rallied from what was at one point a double digit deficit to survive a game Panthers (3-7) effort.
“I think it was definitely a big thing for me” Pankey told reporters after the victory. “I think it was the biggest thing of my career. Sitting out the Notre Dame game, I think it was Coach (Turgeon) sending me a message. He wants me to be willing to lead on this team even though I’m a freshman. I think I have definitely stepped up in terms of being a leader and being a good teammate. (I’ve been) talking to guys and telling them where they need to be on defense and other stuff like that. I think it has been working (in) my advantage.”
Pankey’s 13 point effort against FIU was even more impressive than his similar effort seven days earlier against Mount St. Mary’s. Not only because he added six rebounds, but also because the effort came after suffering a cut to the lip in the first half that forced him to need three stitches. Pankey was able to play less than five minutes of game time in the first frame due to the stitches.
In the second half Pankey totaled 11 points to help Maryland outscore the Panthers 38-27 and hold on for victory. He also had a stretch where he made two big blocks in a matter of seconds and drilled two free throws near the end of the game to help seal the win. He played nearly the entire second half (19 minutes) after missing most of the first half.
Pankey opened the season with 13 points and eight rebounds in the team’s 71-62 over UNC-Wilmington November 13, but had struggled to find consistency on the floor before sitting out most of the win over the Fighting Irish at Verizon Center. He scored a combined nine points in the team’s three games during the 5-hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off and then posted three and seven point outputs in home games against Florida Gulf Coast & Illinois respectively.
Pankey’s solid showing Wednesday night was particularly important as the team’s leading scorer (G Terrell Stoglin) played just 11 minutes in the second half due to foul trouble and fellow big man James Padgett managing just two points after four straight double digit efforts (and reaching double digits in five of the team’s first eight games).
Pankey’s teammate (and Maryland’s only 4th year senior) Sean Mosley took note of the big man’s frustration after the game in DC.
“I just told him to keep your head up. There’s going to be times when five guys, seven guys are clicking. You’ve just got to go with it, but you’re still cheering your team. He got a little frustrated because he didn’t play as much, but he came to practice the next day and worked hard. It shows, how hard he worked. He had a great game today for us.”
With Freshman C Alex Len expected to return from suspension after just two more games, Pankey’s surge could turn the Terrapins’ front court from a weakened, thin unit to a group with depth. With front courts like Duke’s Mason Plumlee/Ryan Kelly and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller/John Henson ahead in Atlantic Coast Conference play, Maryland will need that unit to be stronger.
Turgeon thinks there’s a chance Pankey will become an even better player as the season goes on.
“I know it’s in him…he’s just scratching the surface.”