Frank Howard cracked a smile, busting his teammate Tyus Battle for his lack of rebounding.
“Where is Tyus? What did he have, one? Man, we are going to talk about that in practice.”
Howard had a career-high seven rebounds in SU’s 59-45 win against Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening. That kind of reaction wasn’t one we would have seen from Howard last season.
“Once I realized my shot wasn’t falling, I just looked to fill the stat sheet in other ways,” he said.
Neither is that.
It was just another example of how much Howard has matured from last year to this year.
“This is Frank’s first time making plays,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s really been solid all year for us.”
It is no secret that majority of Syracuse’s offense runs through Howard and Battle. Opponents know it, Boeheim knows it and they know it too.
“Our team last year was completely different. Frank and I are the leaders now,” Battle said. “[We] have to be aggressive.”
Howard relishes the opportunity to be put in spots to make big plays when the game is on the line.
“It is ideal for anyone who wants to be an elite player,” Howard said. “I know not everything is going to go right though.”
Boeheim points to Howard’s improved shooting as a major reason why he can trust him more on the court. A season ago, if Howard took a bad shot, he was going to the bench. It is easy to forget that he entered the season as Syracuse’s starting point guard, a role John Gillon took from him as the year progressed.
Boeheim is notoriously tough on players with poor decision making skills. It can be a lot for a young player to deal with. Howard is glad to move on from being the focus of Boeheim’s scrutiny.
“I’m not going to say it’s good when other guys are getting yelled at, but when coach trusts me out there, it helps me lock in more,” Howard said. “I know that I don’t want to waste that trust.”
Between increased trust and a lack of depth, Howard has become a marathon man for the Orange. He has played at least 35 minutes in every game since Dec. 5 and has routinely played the whole contest.
His time on the court is paying off as well. Even on a night where his shot isn’t falling, like against the Panthers, Howard is getting involved. He had four assists and five steals to go along with his career-high seven boards. He even scored 18 points despite struggling to find his shot.
The biggest number Boeheim wants to focus on though is one. The number of turnovers Howard had in the game.
“Frank’s only negative all season has been his turnovers,” Boeheim said.
It is games like these that show why Howard was once a four-star recruit out of high school. He is far from polished, but he shows flashes of his ultimate potential.
In a year when Syracuse is relying on so many young players, Howard continues to serve as the veteran presence.
“You can’t win with freshmen,” Boeheim said. “You need time, just like Frank did as a freshman. That’s why we need he and Tyus to play so well.”
Year-three Frank Howard is just the player Syracuse needs with such a young group.
“He has that college experience,” Battle said, “that he passes on to the freshmen.”