Pastner used as an example the first foul that Howard committed in the game against the Hokies, when he wasn’t positioned strongly for a rebound.
“Well, what do you think the referee’s going to do?” Pastner asked. “He’s going to call a foul, and that’s what I told Rodney: ‘Protect your first foul.’”
Tech has come to depend on Howard, who has averaged 13 points and 7.4 rebounds in Tech’s past five games. In the two games before that, he was ineffective to the point that, even while starting, he played only a total of 10 minutes. His scoring has been particularly impactful. Howard had averaged 4.6 points per game in his first 18 games.
“We’re just better with Rodney on the floor,” Pastner said. “He probably would have ended up with a double-double if he didn’t foul out.”
The Jackets, who have lost five of their past six and go into Saturday’s game with an overall record of 11-17 and 4-13 in the ACC, need every advantage they can obtain, including an unencumbered Howard.
“I think Rodney’s been playing his best basketball over the past two to three games, so losing him was big,” guard Kyle Sturdivant said after the Virginia Tech game.
One reason why losing Howard to foul trouble has been costly is that backup forward Jordan Meka has been a solid defender but is limited on offense. The other option among Tech’s post players, Gigiberia, does not have Pastner’s trust to play effectively. Gigiberia has played in 15 games this season, starting one, and averaged 7.8 minutes per game He has not played in Tech’s past seven games.
“I just think Saba’s going to be good,” Pastner said. “He’s got to learn to continue to play with that motor, that sense of urgency. And he’s such a sweet young man. I love him. He’s going to be really good. Got great upside. He’s just got to continue to play with that motor, that defensive mindset, that second and third effort.
“If he can get into that, he’s got a chance to be really good because he’s extremely talented. I believe that he’s going to get there, I really do. I know he can get there.”