A scowl crossed Evan Smotrycz’s face as he ripped through another rebound, the type of loose ball that had been snatched from him at an earlier date. He clenched his fist and yelled, the type of reaction that had been absent during less important games. “It was definitely a lot of emotions,” the junior forward said later. “I thought not only myself, but everybody really fed off it.”
Just like Seth Allen offered the Maryland men’s basketball team glimpses of his most dangerous moments, so too did Smotrycz provide the Terrapins with a measure of calculated restraint unseen from him earlier in ACC play. He finished Sunday’s 75-69 upset of Virginia with 13 points – all in the first half – on seven shots while grabbing five rebounds, handing out three assists and committing only one foul and one turnover.
“I thought he was terrific,” Coach Mark Turgeon said on Monday’s ACC coaches’ teleconference. “I thought Evan has forced too many shots this year, trying to be too big of a part of our offense. He was more of a facilitator yesterday, pick-and-pop guys running at him. I thought his shot selection as tremendous. That’s why we shot the percentage we shot against a great defensive team.”
That Smotrycz only attempted one shot after intermission also spoke to his self-awareness, realizing the Cavaliers were shadowing him and determined to prevent another 13-point explosion over the next 20 minutes. An old version of Smotrycz, Turgeon said, might have tried to get his.
This season, the Michigan transfer has attempted less than eight shots in just six games, but his two most efficient games of the entire season – according to KenPom.com – have come in such outings. On Jan. 29, Smotrycz scored 1.95 points per possession against Miami. Against Virginia, it was 1.49.
“I loved his line,” Turgeon said. “I loved it.”
Having Smotrycz in this wheelhouse, shooting jumpers when open and throwing duck-in passes to bigs like center Shaq Cleare when covered, is exactly what the Terps want entering Thursday’s ACC tournament opener against Florida State.
“I was feeling good,” Smotrycz said. “I was able to get some open ones. Wasn’t really forcing anything. Tried to make some plays for guys. Really tried to have fun.”
The same applies for Cleare, the sophomore center who has scored five points in consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 23-27, 2013. With forward Charles Mitchell fouling out after only 15 minutes, Cleare assumed the burden and logged a season-high 26 minutes. He attempted four free throws for the second time all season, grabbed five rebounds, stayed out of foul trouble. His ball-screen defense was more disciplined, he traded blows with Virginia center Mike Tobey underneath and offered the type of mistake-free post play the Terps need from their inconsistent bigs.
Mitchell, meanwhile, started after getting kicked out of the previous game against Virginia Tech, and was 3 for 4 in his limited time. Foul trouble kept him out for the final five minutes and overtime, but Turgeon was left pleased.
“I thought Shaq defensively was really good,” Turgeon said. “Ball-screen defense was not easy for him. He was really solid. Our big guys played with great intelligence today. They had to zone up. They had to guard two guys a lot. They had to show on ball screens. Evan, [forward] Jon Graham, Shaq and Charles all played with great intelligence defensively, which really helped our guards stay with those good players they got on the perimeter.”
The biggest play Cleare made, though, was missing from the box score. When Allen missed a three-pointer with 42 seconds left and the Terps up two in overtime, Cleare tipped the rebound back to teammate Jake Layman, who was promptly fouled and buried the game-clinching free throws.
“Shaq with the tip at the end,” forward Dez Wells said, “I think that was the play of the game for us.”