Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon noticed how Evan Smotrycz’s shoulders slumped after a missed shot, the way his eyes rolled after he was called for a foul, the general sulkiness with which the junior forward carried himself at adverse moments. So after a recent practice, Turgeon offered some candid advice to the fourth-year transfer who is supposed to be a team leader.
“He just wanted to get my mind right,” Smotrycz said. “He said my body language has been terrible.”
Smotrycz has reason to be frustrated: In February, he had made 19.4 percent of his three-point attempts (6 for 31), and his playing time tapered accordingly. Before that month, he had played fewer than 20 minutes just once; it happened against Florida State on Feb. 8 and Syracuse on Feb. 24. In the latter game, he also fouled out for the third time in conference play.
It reached a new low Sunday afternoon inside Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum, where Turgeon again talked to Smotrycz. This time, the coach said, Smotrycz would not be starting, something that had happened only once since his transfer from the University of Michigan.
“It was more about his approach, his attitude toward the game,” Turgeon said during Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference. “It’s something we’ve been working with him lot lately.”
So instead of jogging through the tunnel of Terrapins teammates during pregame introductions, he stood closest to the bench on the left side, slapping hands with the starters who ran past. The change of scenery did him well. Smotrycz finished with 19 points, his most since the day after Thanksgiving. He also made five field goals, his most since Feb. 4, including four three-pointers, his most since Jan. 6.
In handing Smotrycz 35 minutes during a double-overtime loss to the Tigers, Turgeon proved himself capable of fast amnesty. Once Smotrycz showed he was heeding his coach’s words, once the eye rolls and shoulder shrugs disappeared from his repertoire, all was well. In single overtime, down three, Turgeon called for Dez Wells to post up on the left block, draw the defense’s attention and pass the ball back to Smotrycz. It unfolded perfectly, and Smotrycz tied the score, forcing the second overtime.
“I’ve kind of been searching for something these past couple games,” Smotrycz said afterward. “I tried to go out and just have fun today, stay positive.”
As his shooting slump continued over the past month, Smotrycz thought about the offseason, and what he could do to improve. Establish an interior presence came to mind first, so his minutes wouldn’t be strictly tied to his ability to make jumpers. “It put a lot of ideas in my head,” he said.
He had to catch himself from looking too far ahead. After all, the Terps need him now, with two games left in their final ACC regular season.
On Tuesday, Virginia Tech comes to Comcast Center with a new zone defense, seeking to avoid its first 20-loss season since 1955, but does so without key contributors Cadarian Raines and Ben Emelogu. Next weekend, the Terps host No. 5 Virginia, clinchers of its first conference title since 1981. Win both, and they have some momentum entering the ACC tournament. Lose one, and a National Invitational Tournament berth is suddenly in jeopardy.
In a way, Smotrycz’s past two months have epitomized Maryland’s season, undulating between promise and disappointment, with little consistency in either. He enters this final stretch seeking a turnaround, just as the Terps do too.
“It’s tough,” he said, “but I think I’m refocused. My mind-set is right.”