COLLEGE PARK — After Maryland's opening game, coach Gary Williams resisted lavishing too much attention on promising guard Pe'Shon Howard or Maryland's other first-year players.
"This is one game," was the coach's mantra then.
After the season's second game Wednesday night, it proved increasingly challenging for Williams not to single out Howard for praise.
Capping a night in which he repeatedly made big plays, the confident freshman swished in a basket with three seconds left to lift Maryland to a 75-74 victory over College of Charleston.
The Terps, who lost only one game at Comcast Center last season (to William & Mary), had trailed by as many as eight points midway through the second half. They made it close thanks largely to sophomore Jordan Williams (career-high 26 points, 15 rebounds).
With Maryland behind 74-73, College of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock (27 points, including five 3-pointers) missed a fall-away jumper, and the Terps took a timeout with 16.9 seconds left.
The muscular Howard — self-assured enough that he wears the jersey number of former Maryland great Greivis Vasquez — dribbled around looking for Williams or Dino Gregory in the low post. But the defense backed off, and the freshman hit a shot with three seconds left over Charleston's Donavan Monroe.
Goudelock missed a long jumper at the buzzer for the Cougars.
Howard was not intending to shoot, at least not right away.
"It was supposed to go inside to Jordan [Williams] on the pick. The defender did a good job," Howard said. "Everything else was instinct."
Gary Williams had shown his faith in Howard by leaving him in the game during the closing minutes. The coach credited Howard with having the confidence not only to take the winning shot, but also to keep his dribble alive so he couldn't get trapped.
"He made a great shot — he was strong enough to make that," the coach said. "He never flinched, and that is hard to do as a freshman."
Howard finished the night with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and four assists.
"Pe'shon, he's been playing like that all summer," Maryland swingman Cliff Tucker (15 points) said. "He has the swagger that I love."
Howard, who relishes no-look passes, may seem fearless. But he conceded that he is still nervous — not of the other team, but of his coach's wrath.
"I knew if I missed, it was going to be rough on Friday," Howard said. "Every time I turn it over — I'm not going to lie — I get a little scared looking at the sideline."
Howard said he "started to celebrate" after the basket "but then I realized we've got practice on Friday."
The Terps won despite missing nine of their first 10 free throws. Overall, the Terps shot 5-for-18 from the line.
It was the Terps' second game in the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. No matter the outcome, Maryland was guaranteed a spot in next week's finals at Madison Square Garden along with Pitt, Illinois and Texas.
Many Maryland fans can recite from memory the teams that have upset the Terps in early nonconference games at Comcast Center in recent years: William & Mary, Morgan State, American, Ohio University.
With the Terps trailing by eight points midway through the second half, fans were surely thinking, "Please, let's not add College of Charleston to the list."
College of Charleston was hardly a cupcake opponent. The Bobby Cremins-coached Cougars, of the Southern Conference, returned three starters from last season's 22-12 team that upset North Carolina. The Cougars were led Wednesday by Goudelock, the Southern Conference Preseason player of the Year and the school's career 3-point leader.
In the second half, Tucker said he volunteered to guard Goudelock. Maryland coaches agreed.
"He is as good an athlete as there is in the ACC," Gary Williams said of Tucker, who hounded Goudelock behind the arc late in the game.
Goudelock's fifth 3 of the game gave the Cougars a 60-57 lead with 10:30 left. Moments later, his field goal gave Charleston its biggest lead of the half at 68-60.
"I am very proud of this team," Gary Williams said. "This is a young team; we lost three great leaders [to graduation], and College of Charleston is a very good basketball team."