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On Senior Day, Terps beat Michigan and preserve perfect record at home vs. Big Ten

COLLEGE PARK — It's never easy to leave home, which makes what Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz, Richaud Pack and Jon Graham found at Maryland over the years all the more remarkable.

Each had come seeking a rebirth of sorts, a new beginning at a program at times unsure of where it was headed. Games were won and lost, teammates gained and replaced, and after starting over in College Park, they remained to see their careers to the very end. To find out whether they had made the right choice, the transfers had to stay.

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Yet through the ups and downs — and there were plenty in Saturday's 66-56 win over Michigan — the No. 14 Terps knew they could fall back on the comforts of home. For in this breakout season, they have made Xfinity Center a place at which opponents seldom win. As the Wolverines conceded the game late, an announced sellout crowd of 17,950 stood and cheered. It seemed as much a celebration as a salute.

"It was a special day for this program," Wells said, "and for each and every senior that was out there."

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Wells was asked afterward whether his Senior Day had unfolded as he imagined. He nodded, then added: "Give or take four or five turnovers."

On an afternoon in which Maryland (24-5, 12-4 Big Ten Conference) improved to 18-1 and finished unbeaten at home in conference play, it was that kind of imperfect day for the upperclassmen.

Wells had 13 points, but also six turnovers. Smotrycz had four assists and nine rebounds, but just one point. Graham (Calvert Hall) and Pack each had six points.

Coach Mark Turgeon said he thought even Melo Trimble wasn't great. That was maybe unfair, he clarified: The freshman guard did have 19 points and five assists, both game highs.

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Maryland's play was ragged and at times uninspired, coming as it did after the team's unusual pregame. Freshman center Michal Cekovsky injured his left knee during warm-ups and was held out of the game. (He underwent an MRI, Turgeon said, and his availability will be known in a couple days.)

Shortly before tip-off, 11 seniors — seven players and four team managers — were honored. So crunched for time was Turgeon that by the time he had skipped a review of the Terps' game plan to say a quick prayer, "the horn's already blowing. They're waiting on us."

"I was so not wanting to have a letdown that we were a little bit flat, a little bit emotionally spent, a little bit tired," he added. "But with that said, we just gutted it out."

It was important that they did. With Maryland's fifth straight win, it remained in second place in the Big Ten, still in position to gain a coveted double-bye in the conference tournament.

Against a Michigan team (14-14, 7-9) with injury woes even worse than the Terps' earlier this season, Maryland never could distance itself early in the proceedings. The Wolverines' starting backcourt of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr., two of the team's top-three scorers, has missed much of conference play with foot injuries, and still Michigan hung around.

The Terps didn't make their second field goal until nearly eight minutes into the game, at which point the seniors stepped in to help. Wells, Pack and Graham combined for 16 first-half points as Maryland took a 30-21 lead at halftime.

"It wasn't really a normal day," Smotrycz said. "We didn't have our normal routine. Guys were a little sluggish."

Then the underclassmen took over. Graham opened the second half with two free throws, but the next 16 points came from freshmen and sophomores, with Trimble's 3-pointer giving Maryland a 49-42 lead with seven minutes remaining.

It was a mix of old and new that made it possible. In a nearly seven-minute span ending with Trimble's 3-pointer, he and freshman wing Jared Nickens each hit two shots from beyond the arc. Assisting on each was Smotrycz, a former Michigan forward who, Nickens said, "knew everything that was going on" with the Wolverines' 1-3-1 zone defense. Smotrycz was the Terps' inside man, in more ways than one.

Operating in the space Michigan conceded in the middle of of its trapping pressure, he dribbled and pass-faked and ball-screened the Terps' offense into good looks. Maryland finished 11-for-22 from 3-point range, the last of which, by Wells, gave the Terps a 60-48 lead with 3:34 left. Michigan, which shot 36.5 percent from the field, had led in the first half and gotten as close as three midway through the second half, but its upset hopes never amounted to much.

"I told Evan after the game in front of the team, 'Evan, I know you've had a tough year, but you were phenomenal today. Congratulations,' " Turgeon said. "He was the guy who could figure out the zone."

With less than a minute to play, Turgeon motioned to his bench. He wanted the walk-ons. On came Spencer Barks and Jacob Susskind and Trevor Anzmann. Varun Ram (River Hill), a former walk-on now on scholarship, joined the fun, as did sophomore Damonte Dodd. The crowd thundered as they did everything it begged of them. Everything but shoot the ball, that is.

"I told them not to shoot," Turgeon said, before quipping: "And then after the game, I said, 'Trevor, why didn't you shoot?' "

The Terps will finish the regular season with games at Rutgers and Nebraska before heading to Chicago for the league tournament and wherever they're drawn in the NCAA tournament. Saturday's game was the team's last this season in College Park, but that didn't seem to bother the Terps.

They've done what they can at home. Legacies will be forged, Wells and Smotrycz explained, in the weeks to come. They're sad to leave Xfinity Center, sure, but happy to have landed there at all.

"Hopefully," Smotrycz said, "we're remembered for more than just being undefeated at home in Big Ten play."

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