Junior guard Frank Howard played one of the best games of his career on Tuesday night as he led Syracuse to a 59-45 win over Pittsburgh. Howard finished with 18 points, a career-high 7 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists. Since being handed the keys to the team at the beginning of the season, he’s quickly established himself as the Orange’s leader and one of the best players in the ACC.
Many fans weren’t sure they’d ever see this version of Howard as he went through some ups and downs during his first two seasons with the team. He didn’t play much his freshman year due to a virus that affected him for about a month and because he was playing behind veteran guards Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney and 1st round NBA draft pick Malachi Richardson.
Sophomore year was supposed to be his time to shine but guard John Gillon (pictured below) announced he was transferring from Colorado State to play his graduate season with the Orange. By the time conference play started, Gillon had established himself as the team’s starting point guard and Howard saw inconsistent minutes the rest of the season. He finished the season averaging 4.5 points and 3.6 assists in 16.2 minutes of action.Embed from Getty Images
With Gillon gone after the 16-17 season, this season’s team was Howard’s to lead but he might have experienced some déjà vu when South Florida guard Geno Thorpe (pictured below) committed to Syracuse to play his graduate year with the team. Coach Jim Boeheim made it clear that the point guard position was Howard’s to lose when Howard began the season starting for the Orange and Thorpe saw minutes coming off the bench.
Howard started the season strong including a career-high 25 points against Toledo in November and it became clear to Thorpe that he wouldn’t see as many minutes as he wanted. Thorpe announced he was leaving the program due to “personal reasons” on December 1.
Without the unnecessary stress of looking over his shoulder to see if a graduate transfer was going to steal his playing time or looking over to the bench to see if Boeheim was going to pull him for one mistake (as Boeheim often did during his freshman and sophomore seasons), Howard has thrived this season.
He’s averaging 15.6 points, 5.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. He is one of only four players in the country averaging 15.5 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2 steals per game. The other three players: Oklahoma guard Trae Young who is frontrunner for the national player of the year, West Virginia guard Jevon Carter who is a preseason first team all-Big 12 selection and LSU super freshman Tremont Waters.
Howard has done most of his damage behind the three point line this season. He’s shooting 38% from beyond the arc and is one of the Orange’s few shooting threats. Howard and Tyus Battle are the only consistent outside shooters on the team and opponents have been keying in on the Orange guards more lately. Even with the extra focus on Howard, he has shot 17/35 (49%) from three range in ACC play. He made 5 threes in the road loss to Wake Forest and 4 threes in the road loss to Virginia.
Howard (pictured below) has increased his defensive production with more playing time this season. He’s pulling in 3.5 rebounds a game and leads the ACC in steals with 2.1 steals per game. His 7 steals were critical in the Orange’s home win over Maryland in late November.
The one area Howard needs to improve is taking care of the basketball. He’s averaging 4.2 turnovers on the year and as good as he’s been putting the ball in the hoop, it’s his carelessness with the ball that has cost the team in a few games. Howard turned it over 7 times in the Virginia loss and 6 times in the Wake Forest loss. He is 5th in the nation in turnovers. For comparison, Trae Young leads the country in turnovers with 5.2 per game.
The evolution of Howard has been critical to Syracuse’s season as they’ve played well enough to be a borderline NCAA tournament team. The team is 13-6 (2-4) on the season and ranked 40th in the RPI. If Howard can continue his well-rounded play, three point shooting and limit his turnovers the rest of the season, the Orange will have a chance to dance in March.