With 5:04 left in the first half and Syracuse up by three, Frank Howard stood at the top of the key, casually surveying the Georgia Tech defense. In one motion, he quickly unleashed a no-look sling pass toward DaJuan Coleman, who collected the ball and dropped in the layup.
The crowd cooed momentarily before going berserk.
“That,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, “is why we recruited him.”
It was one of six nifty passes Howard had on the afternoon, as Syracuse rallied to defeat Georgia Tech 60-57 to keep its tournament hopes alive. After losing its first four conference games, SU is now 5-5.
Howard is part of the reason for Syracuse’s recent resurgence. After being used sparingly to begin the season, Howard has firmly established himself as the team’s backup point guard, having played at least five minutes in the last seven games.
But Saturday’s performance was by far the best of his young career.
In another sequence, Syracuse got out on the fast break and Michael Gbinije found Howard on the right wing. Without hesitation, Howard touch passed it to a streaking Tyler Roberson who threw down a thunderous jam with 8:35 in the first half.
“All the good Syracuse teams have had a spark coming off the bench,” Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney said. “He can be that for us. He was that for us today. He was a difference maker.”
Aside from the six assists, Howard didn’t turn the ball over in what was mostly a mistake free 14 minutes.
With 14:24 in the second half, Howard floated a 10-foot shot in the paint which barely grazed the rim and drew the ire of Boeheim.
On the next whistle, Howard took a seat next to his coach.
“I definitely got an earful about that,” Howard said. “He’s just saying it’s a bad shot. He thought I could’ve gone all the way to the rim.”
But in a sign that Boeheim is beginning to trust his freshman guard more, Howard played late into the second half before being pulled with around three minutes left.
“Frank Howard made some of the best passes we’ve seen in years here,” Boeheim said. “He was tremendous out there.”