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Jim Boeheim goes in the trenches defending former Syracuse point guard Frank Howard

A reporter asked if Joe Girard III brings more offensive punch to point guard than recent ones. Jim Boeheim reminded everyone that Frank Howard was a good college player.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Pittsburgh vs Syracuse Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Former Syracuse Orange men’s basketball player Frank Howard finished his career at SU unceremoniously. One of the more divisive players in recent program history among observers and fans alike, he received an indefinite suspension before the 2019 NCAA Tournament. When SU lost to Baylor, Howard’s college career ended without him in the building. The non-finale fueled the flames for his critics and capped a senior season filled with struggles after a sensational junior slate.

Howard rode along for a 2016 Final Four run as the third guard in rotation behind Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney as a freshman. He stayed when John Gillon earned the starting point guard spot over him during his sophomore season. Then, in 2017-18, he emerged scoring 14.4 points per game on an SU team starving for offense. His perimeter prowess alongside Tyus Battle led an elite defense to the Sweet 16.

Howard’s SU career swayed between highs and lows, his finale fell far below expectations after he suffered a preseason ankle injury that kept him out eight weeks. But before he departed he dropped 28 points on Duke behind 11-for-20 shooting in the ACC Tournament in a narrow loss.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, a reporter asked if Joe Girard III surpassed the offensive prowess of recent point guards. Jim Boeheim stepped up to defend his former point guard.

“He’s been steady, very, very steady,” Boeheim said of Girard, who shot 13-for-22 since taking over at point guard. “Good decisions. His defense has been good. He’s rebounding out of our zone for the most part. Not tonight, but he has been.”

Girard scored 24 points against Seattle after taking over for Jalen Carey, who had successful right thumb surgery on Friday and will likely redshirt. As a starter, Girard is averaging 15.0 points and 4.0 assists per game in three games against Seattle, Cornell and Bucknell. Howard averaged 12.0 points and 3.9 assists in his final two seasons with Syracuse as a starter — including ACC and NCAA Tournament games.

NCAA Basketball: Cornell at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s got a ways to go,” Boeheim continued. “Frank Howard has 26 and 20 (actually 28 and 18) the last two games he played.”

Those two games came against Pittsburgh and Duke. Howard also contributed 16 points and five assists in a critical mid-season upset of then No.1 ranked Duke that became SU’s marquee win. We still haven’t viewed much from Girard in those tough environments. The little we did, 22 minutes against Virginia on opening night, resulted in 1-for-6 shooting, three points, two assists and two turnovers.

Howard, who’s been searching for a team between Europe and the G-League, spoke recently about how he wasn’t in peak shape during his senior year. His inconsistency left a sour final impression before the suspension sealed how many felt about him.

Boeheim left the offense to Tyus Battle routinely that season as Howard struggled. Even as the injury fell far behind, he shot 36.4 percent in ACC play. Though Howard was a strong on-court communicator and excellent commander at the top of the zone, Syracuse sorely missed him in the final game against Baylor as the Bears hit 47 percent from three against Syracuse in a 78-69 win.

“He averaged more than Joe’s averaging, I’ll put it that way,” Boeheim finished. “I understand your question, you’re wrong. Don’t devalue a guy like Frank Howard.”

The entire exchange is below, with video here, marking Boeheim’s first comments about Howard since his SU career concluded with 992 points, 435 assists, 284 rebounds and 166 steals in 131 games.

To start year, Carey and Girard received the critical coaching Howard once did, specifically as a sophomore. Boeheim benched Carey after analyzing his play in Italy, two preseason games and a 1-for-8 start to the season. He did not play against Seattle, the he opted for surgery on his thumb, something Boeheim did not believe impacted Carey’s play.

Girard, however, is thriving, drawing massive ovations from the crowd and post-game questions. Boeheim largely suppressed the hype, as seen in the Howard exchange. Though it is worth considering the impact that scrutiny has on public perception in Howard’s case.

Last week, Boeheim argued with Brent Axe for assuming he has a short leash with players, but he also said if Bourama Sidibe doesn’t move, he won’t play. Brycen Goodine exited after a transition turnover on Saturday. Howard’s career almost exemplified that concept — a phrase that does, as Boeheim noted, sound weird when you think about it.

His defense of Howard did show that he ultimately has his players’ backs though. Marek Dolezaj glanced at him during the Cornell game, seeming to telepathically send Boeheim to engage with refs over a call underneath the basket.

Boeheim chose to look back fondly on Howard’s production, despite the many negatives available to cling to, showcasing in one exchange the Boeheim coaching experience.

Get through it, as Dion Waiters showed, and Boeheim will back you for life.