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In return from injury, Terps forward Evan Smotrycz is imperfect but undeterred

Terps forward Evan Smotrycz broke his foot before this season started.
Terps forward Evan Smotrycz broke his foot before this season started. (Mitch Stringer / USA Today Sports)

COLLEGE PARK — After the Maryland men's basketball team survived a second-half scare from Monmouth on Friday night, forward Evan Smotrycz was trying to find some positives from the first game of his senior year, a debut delayed more than a month by a broken left foot.

Smotrycz knew it wasn't his shooting; he missed his first three shots, including the only 3-pointer he attempted, before making a layup on a neat feed from freshman point guard Melo Trimble in the second half of a 61-56 victory at Xfinity Center.

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It wasn't his ball handling, since his timing seemed to be off there, too, fumbling passes he normally turns into smooth jumpers and committing a couple of turnovers.

"It's a process, and I'll get a feel for" playing again, said Smotrycz, who hopes to take another step toward regaining his form when Maryland (6-0) takes on Virginia Military Institute on Sunday night.

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Sitting in the media room late Friday night, Smotrycz finally hit on something he felt he had done well.

"I thought I rebounded decently, if that even counts," he said.

Told he led the Terps in rebounding, Smotrycz seemed surprised. "I did? How many did I have?" he asked.

When the answer came — six, the same number he averaged as a junior, when he finished second on the team behind former Terps forward Charles Mitchell — Smotrycz smiled.

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"Wow, that's impressive," he said. "I didn't know that. Cool."

If his first game back showed Smotrycz anything, it's that he still has a ways to go before Maryland coach Mark Turgeon can expect the former Michigan transfer to help the Terps make up for the unexpected loss of senior guard Dez Wells.

Wells, the team's leading scorer (16.2 points per game) and rebounder (7.5) through the Terps' first five games, is expected to be out for a month after breaking his right wrist during Tuesday's 72-63 victory over No. 13 Iowa State.

Smotrycz, who averaged 11 points a game as a junior, looked better in the second half against the Hawks than he did in the first, when he barely could get down the court toward the end of a seven-minute stretch uninterrupted by TV timeouts. Smotrycz said he didn't expect to play as much as he did (22 minutes) in his first game back.

"I was pretty gassed [in the first half]. I thought, overall, it wasn't that bad," Smotrycz said. "I was doing what I could to stay in shape [when sidelined] without kind of pounding on my foot. For the most part, it was about as good as it could have been."

Turgeon, who said he left Smotrycz's return up to the senior, didn't expect to play Smotrycz as much as he did, either.

"In the end, he felt fine," Turgeon said. "I thought he was OK. I thought he was better on the defensive end than on the offensive end tonight. He led us in rebounding, so he's going to help us with that. He's definitely not himself. It'll be a while before he's himself. I expect him to be a little bit better on Sunday than he was today. But he helped us, especially on the defensive end."

Despite playing alongside junior forward Jake Layman and, to a lesser extent, fellow senior forward Jon Graham (Calvert Hall) last season, Smotrycz's teammates are largely new. He will have to get used to playing with a rotation that, in Wells' absence, features Trimble and three other freshmen as well as senior transfer Richaud Pack.

Said Trimble, who scored a game-high 24 points in helping the Terps stay unbeaten: "We're happy to have Evan back. He's a little sluggish right now. We know he's going to get back in the flow of things. Right now, without Dez, we're just learning how to play without him and welcome Evan back."

With Layman and 7-foot-1 freshman Michal Cekovsky at times playing power forward, Smotrycz is trying to adjust to the small forward position. He is also "dealing with a little bit of pain" from the healing foot, something another former Terp, guard Seth Allen, had to go through last season.

Unlike Allen, Smotrycz plays mostly below the rim, making the transition back maybe not as difficult.

"I never really elevated on my jumper to begin with," Smotrycz said with a chuckle. "My shot feels fine. I'm sure I'll knock down some moving forward."

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