One year ago, Evan Smotrycz learned that the program he joined would switch to the conference he left — not that it mattered much to him. Smotrycz transferred from Michigan for a fresh start, and came to Maryland – not the ACC – to find it. But the move created an interesting subplot for the junior forward. On Wednesday, Smotrycz will revisit an old rival arena at fifth-ranked Ohio State during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Next season, he will return to the conference.
“Ohio State’s a tough place to play in,” Smotrycz said. “I haven’t won there. Hopefully we can get one there.”
Smotrycz has faced the Buckeyes six times in his career, more than any other team. In those games – three apiece during his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Wolverines – he has averaged just 5.8 points per game on 32.4-percent shooting (37.5 percent on three-point attempts). He had more fouls (23) than rebounds (21), made as many turnovers as three-pointers (nine) and has tasted victory against Ohio State just once in those six outings.
Through seven games with his new team, though, Smotrycz has been everything Coach Mark Turgeon hoped he would be after plucking the Massachusetts native from the Midwest. Smotrycz ranks second on the team in scoring (13.7 points per game), first in rebounds (7.6 per game), fourth in assists (2.0 per game), second in offensive rating according to Kenpom.com (119.1) and, perhaps most importantly for someone coming off an entire year without game experience still adjusting back into the college speed, third in minutes per game (29.6).
Smotrycz’s biggest challenge this season has been reconciling his height (6 feet 10, he insists, despite being listed at 6 feet 9) with his superior perimeter abilities. Turgeon challenges him to rebound, because often Smotrycz is Maryland’s tallest player on the floor, but still needs shots to fall too.
“I think that’s something that comes with every game,” Smotrycz said last week, after scoring 19 points on 70 percent shooting against Providence during the Paradise Jam tournament final. “If your shot’s not dropping, you have to find other ways to impact the game, whether that’s rebounding, offensive rebounding, getting to the rim. You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to find a way.”
That last sentence could easily be Smotrycz’s mantra. Aware of his comparative athleticism, he knows rebounds won’t come from simply out-muscling opponents. Much like teammate Charles Mitchell slips and sneaks his way to rebounds, Smotrycz too must get creative. So far, he has reached nine rebounds in four of seven games, and posted double-doubles against Providence and Morgan State.
“It’s kind of a focus of mine,” Smotrycz said, minutes after he snipped the net on the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Coach is always on me about rebounding and a lot of times, my guy is always going to the glass, so I’ve got to make sure I hit him. Sometimes the ball bounces my way, sometimes it doesn’t. Today it did.”
Save for poor shooting games against both Abilene Christian (11 points on 3 for 8) and Marist (four points on 1 for 3), Smotrycz has also been a reliable offensive weapon, again using his experience to pump-fake past eager shot-blockers and penetrate the lane. He still needs work defensively, but with Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Roddy Peters at their best on the dribble, Smotrycz is right where he belongs: shooting three-pointers and creating space — at Maryland.