GREENSBORO, N.C. — Evan Smotrycz looked lost.
Before Maryland’s game against Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament began Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum, Smotrycz stood on the sideline near the team's bench, his hands in the pockets of his warmup pants. When the game started, he took a seat on the bench next to the walk-ons, a clear sign that the 6-9 junior forward wasn’t going to play.
A back injury that began at halftime of last Sunday’s overtime win against then No. 5 Virginia at Comcast Center – a game in which he scored all 13 of his points in the first half and took only one shot in the second half – and caused him to miss practice on Tuesday in College Park – flared up again Thursday morning.
For the first time in a college career that began with two seasons at Michigan, Smotrycz did not play because of an injury. One of Maryland’s most versatile players, Smotrycz watched the Terps lose to the Seminoles, 67-65, in the team’s last game in the ACC.
“It sucked, it was tough, I couldn’t even tie my own shoes to go out for warmups, I wouldn’t have been able to do much to help,” Smotrycz said in the team’s dressing room after the game.
Smotrycz, who has no history of back problems, said that his back “locked up a little bit at halftime” against Virginia “but since I was moving I didn’t really feel it.” The next morning, Smotrycz said, “I could barely move.” Smotrycz said he saw team doctors early in the day and hoped it would “loosen up by today, but it didn’t.”
That Smotrycz wasn’t able to go at all seemed to catch Maryland coach Mark Turgeon a little by surprise. Turgeon said at a press conference after the game “that we all assumed he was playing” after Smotrycz participated in the team’s light practice and walk-through on Wednesday at a local high school.
“About 40 minutes before the game, my trainer told me he wasn’t playing or didn’t want to play, so I met with [Smotrycz] and he said his back was tight, so we didn’t play him,” Turgeon said during the press conference.
Later, when questioned by a reporter whether Smotrycz had decided not to play, Turgeon said: "No. The trainer said that if he tried to play, he wouldn't be effective."
Turgeon started a bigger frontcourt with sophomores Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare playing together for one of the few times this season.
Neither was effective.
Mitchell, who dislocated a finger during the game, went scoreless and pulled four rebounds in 18 minutes. Cleare, who had played well the past two games, scored just two points with three rebounds. Turgeon also used junior Jon Graham for nine minutes. Graham had two points (on a tip-in), a rebound and a steal. Freshman Damonte Dodd played seven minutes, getting two rebounds.
"I didn't play well, some of the bigs didn't play well," Cleare said. "We made a lot of turnovers. I didn't box out, I didn't show ball screens the right way. I think we lost the game at the beginning part of the last play."
Asked if he thought Smotrycz’s absence impacted the outcome of the game, Turgeon said, “No, I thought my guys that played tried hard and played well. We had enough to win the game and we came up a possession short again.”