BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The long wait for Maryland junior forward Evan Smotrycz ended with mixed emotions.
Smotrycz, who played in his first game since transferring from Michigan two summers ago, was disappointed in the way the Terps came out against No. 18 Connecticut Friday at the Barclays Center, but pleased by the manner in which they fought back from a 17-point deficit and gave themselves a chance to win.
Though a 78-77 defeat took away any personal satisfaction Smotrycz felt from his own 13-point, nine-rebound performance, he had to be pleased with the way Maryland coach Mark Turgeon used him. It was not just that he had played a career-high 37 minutes, but that he was a vital part of an offense that struggled as fellow junior Dez Wells got used to running the point.
"This is a really nice arena, it was fun being out there, I would love to win, but it's fun to be back in the battle again," said Smotrycz, whose two early 3-pointers kept Maryland in the game. "I was definitely having fun, I love playing basketball. It was good being back out there."
It was easy to see why Smotrycz, who finished 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from three-point range, left Ann Arbor after being labeled as strictly a long-range shooter. He has spent the past year working on other parts of his game – including his rebounding – and gives the Terps a much-needed calming influence in what often looks chaotic. Turgeon said that he was pleased with the way Smotrycz played.
"Evan was good, he rebounded well, which was big for us, he made some shots, he's a pretty good passer," Turgeon said. "He hasn't been practicing very well lately, so it was a big step for him. Obviously I played him 37 minutes so I thought he was doing pretty well."
Here are some other takeaways from my hometown:
** Wells admitted after the game that his adjustment to point guard, replacing an injured Seth Allen, is still ongoing. After looking tentative in Sunday's exhibition win over Catholic University, Wells looked out of sync for the first 30 minutes against Connecticut. Helped by the fact that Shabazz Napier got into foul trouble and eventually fouled out with 1:30 to go, Wells was able to take over more down the stretch.
Turgeon said that Wells will continue to be the point guard despite the fact that Roddy Peters had some good moments in his debut. Peters wound up playing 18 minutes, mostly because of Nick Faust's poor shooting (5-of-18 from the field) and Jake Layman's foul trouble in the second half, finishing with five points, three turnovers, two assists and two steals.
"Roddy played a little bit more and played well in the second half, which was great to see in a game in that environment," Turgeon said. "He had a couple of turnovers, but he made a couple of nice passes too. We were just trying to figure it out. We still are."
Turgeon didn't say much about Faust's performance after the game, except to mention the big 3-point shot the 6-5 junior guard hit with 2:27 to go to pull Maryland to within three, 75-72. It came right after Faust had hit a layup in a sequence that began with him missing both a 3 and a follow on a drive. It was the best stretch Faust had in an otherwise poor shooting game.
When he goes back and watches the tape of the game, Faust will see how much room he had to drive on many of the 3-point shots (3-of-10) he put up. There are times when Faust can get hot from the outside, but more often than not, his best games are when he puts the ball on the floor and goes to the basket.
** One of the things Turgeon said before the season was that Maryland would be a "great rebounding team." They were toward the end Friday night, but overall got outrebounded 36-33 by a team that didn't have the size or bulk of the Terps. The Huskies were more athletic inside, which accounted for some of the issues, but Charles Mitchell and Shaquile Cleare combined for four rebounds and no blocks in 39 minutes.