GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Smotrycz stood around with his hands in the pockets of his warmup pants, and he spent much of Thursday afternoon in this manner. Lower back spasms had left him unable to jog out for pregame introductions, let alone play for the Maryland men’s basketball team in its 67-65 ACC tournament loss to Florida State. So he watched from the bench, seated near the walk-ons, and every moment he missed seemed to hurt more.
“Yeah, it sucks,” he said later in the Terrapins locker room. “It’s tough. Yeah.”
Smotrycz had never missed a college game because of injury before. He plays smart and generally avoids banging around inside. But during the first half of Sunday’s upset over Virginia, Smotrycz felt his lower back tighten up. He sat down during intermission to rest, but that only made it worse. He finished the game but didn’t score in the second half.
Over the next several days, Smotrycz got treatment from the team’s medical staff. Maryland had Monday off, but that wasn’t enough. The junior forward didn’t practice on Tuesday or Wednesday. When the Terps arrived at Greensboro Coliseum about 90 minutes before tip-off, he lagged behind the pack, in sweatpants. Smotrycz was hoping to be a game-time decision.
“But no,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do much.”
Coach Mark Turgeon muddled the situation during his postgame news conference. The Terps could have used Smotrycz’s three-point shooting – they shot 8 of 23 from beyond the arc – and his presence would have added some depth to a front-court rotation that was suddenly thinned when Charles Mitchell dislocated his pinkie.
“We all assumed he was playing,” Turgeon said. “About 40 minutes before the game, my trainer told me he wasn’t playing or didn’t want to play, so I met with him, and he said his back was tight, so we didn’t play him.”
Later, in the hallway outside the Maryland locker room, Turgeon clarified his comments, saying trainer Matt Charvat and Smotrycz agreed that his body wouldn’t hold up to the rigors of playing, and bristled at the notion that Smotrycz could have played but chose not to. If the Terps reach the National Invitational Tournament, which seems a safe bet at this stage, their first-round game would take place sometime early next week. Smotrycz isn’t thinking that far ahead.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I talked to our trainer and he said he’d text me what the deal is with treatment. I’ll be in there as much as I can.”
Mitchell, meanwhile, suffered his injury when he blocked Okaro White’s shot and the Florida State forward smacked his hand on the way down. Mitchell felt a sharp pain coarse through his hand and, when he looked down, he saw a gruesome sight.
“My pinky was hanging off the side of my hand,” he said.
Charvat and Florida State’s trainer rushed to Mitchell, who had begun stomping the ground as a method of coping with the pain. Charvat threw a towel around Mitchell’s hand and escorted him to the locker room, where he remained for several minutes but later returned to the bench with athletic tape wrapped around his pinkie and ring fingers. He returned at the final media timeout and played the rest of the game, finishing with zero points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.
“I was worried about if I could play,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about if it was broken. That was my only mindset after that happened. I’m glad I got back out there.”