Smotrycz Returns, Terps Rally to Beat USC Upstate By Mike Ashley COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maybe having Evan Smotrycz back on the floor is that one Christmas present Mark Turgeon got to open early.
On Dec. 12, the 6-8 forward practiced for the first time since Nov. 29, and then he got in 18 minutes Dec. 13 at Xfinity Center to help give 19th-ranked Maryland (10-1) some big upside against USC Upstate in a tough 67-57 Terrapins victory.
“I’m just trying to play right now,” said Smotrycz, who reinjured his broken foot Nov. 30 in the win over VMI. “It’s going to take some time. I’m not in the best shape right now, and obviously not moving the best I can.”
Maryland wasn’t in the best shape late in the first half, trailing USC Upstate from Spartanburg, by as many as eight points. Smotrycz gave the team a lift with a stickback and maybe even more so just with being back on the floor. His voice was like a chorus of angels to many teammates.
“He gave us a big lift, telling me things to do and what to say to teammates,” said Melo Trimble, who posted his first career double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. “He was helping me get through screens, ‘d’ on the weakside and off the ball. He was saying to know the personnel and know where to help.”
Whatever Smotrycz, who had 10 points and six rebounds, said, it helped. Maryland came out gangbusters in the second half to help the Terps better combat that Grinchy Upstate 2-3 zone and push the Terps’ winning streak to three games.
“We started driving the ball and getting stops on the defensive end,” explained Trimble. And the Terrapins turned a four-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead midway through the half
Jake Layman, who got 16 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, thought the early – 11 a.m. – start contributed to Terrapin troubles but a lot of it had to do with USC Upstate (8-3), which upset Georgia Tech last weekend, and is on a pre-Christmas schedule even travel-challenged Santa wouldn’t trade for – at Tech, at Maryland, at Memphis and at Mississippi State. The Spartans, Division I since 2007-08, and off to their best start at this level, came in ranked 21st in the Mid-Major poll.
“We never even practiced this early,” said Layman, who hit 6-of-11 shots in the second half. “I think tonight our defense is what carried us throughout the whole game. In the second half we were more aggressive instead of settling for threes. Our ball-movement was better.”
Turgeon, who could have laid into the team after a 2-of-17 travesty from 3-point range in the first half, went the other way with the team at the matinee intermission. “I pointed at this guy, and said, ‘He’s going to make his next one,’ and then I pointed at this guy, and said, ‘He’s going to make his next one. We know Richaud (Pack) is going to lock up (Upstate’s Ty Greene).’ I was just trying to give them confidence because our heads were a little bit down at halftime.”
Playing more aggressively, the Terrapins were still locked in a fight with the gritty Spartans down the stretch. Leading by eight with 4:33 remaining after a Damonte Dodd stickback, Maryland had to weather one more charge. Fred Miller scored on a drive, and after a Smotrcyz tip-in, Jacob Schulte tipped in a miss to make it 59-54 at 2:29.
Trimble hit two free throws and then Miller drilled a 3-pointer, and the Spartans were within 61-57, at 1:55. That’s when Layman got a screen, popped open all alone at the top of the key and hit the dagger, a three to make it 64-57, at 1:34. Layman was 0-for-5 from the field in the first half.
“In that first half I wasn’t aggressive enough, I wasn’t looking for my shot,” said Layman, who has scored in double-figures in 14 straight games back to last season. “I kind of settled for some threes that I shouldn’t have taken. I think we were all more aggressive in the second half and our defense sparked us.”
The Maryland defense, which held Upstate to 37.3 percent shooting (22-of-59), and three more Trimble free throws finished off the visitors from the Atlantic Sun Conference, and nearly all of the 9,093 fans at Xfinity went home happy.
On the season, the Spartans were shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range but Maryland limited them to just 5-of-22, 22.7 percent. Turgeon said he didn’t mind giving up more layups than usual, considering that number.
Miller had 13 points, as did Michael Buchanan. Greene had 11, for the Spartans who had just eight turnovers, all in the second half. Maryland had a 44-31 rebounding edge but the Terps were outscored 30-28 in the paint.
Maryland won’t play again until Dec. 21 at Oklahoma State, and the next home game isn’t until Dec. 27, against Oakland. Turgeon is giving the team a couple of days off after a stretch of eight games in 16 days. The rest will be particularly beneficial to Smotrycz, who broke his foot in the preseason, came back against Monmouth on Nov. 28, and then reinjured the foot and ankle two days later.
“I thought Evan was really good,” said Turgeon. “He is just a smart player. He found holes, got to the rim and defended very well. He had a couple of turnovers I didn’t like, but he will learn. He has not played and practiced, so it was a really good game for him.”
Smotrycz said he came back too early the first time this season, part of a plan to get him ready to play against Virginia. He said his foot is better now, and conditioning his biggest issue.
The Terrapins had a 10-point lead, their biggest of the afternoon, but Josh Cuthberson hit a 3-pointer at 8:45, and it was 49-42, and then a drive by the quick and troublesome Greene cut it to five.
Trimble and Layman took over the next few minutes, the freshman guard either getting in the lane for lay-ups or getting to the line, something Maryland did much better in the second half when they were 13-of-17 from the stripe. They were 4-of-6 at the line in the first half. Trimble finished 8-of-9.
Layman did what he does. His 3-pointer at 7:17 put the Terps back up by eight at 54-46.
“Jake settled in to start the second half so it was good to see,” said Turgeon.
Maryland came out more aggressively on offense to start the second half. Layman got to the line and hit two free throws to make it 28-26, but Mario Blessing drilled a 3-pointer at the other end. Miller scored in transition but Jared Nickens hit a 3-pointer for the Terps, and then Layman fed Pack for a lay-up to make it 33-31 at 16:43.
When Trimble took it right at 6-11 Buchanan and got a three-point play, it was 35-34. “I was just trying to be patient and working the ball around the perimeter,” said Trimble. “I was expecting one of my teammates to attack but the shot clock was going down so I decided to attack myself and get to the basket. That’s what we wanted to do the whole game, attack to the basket and kick out.”
USC Upstate’s first turnover of the game immediately followed and then Layman put Maryland ahead with a dunk at 15:12.
That play was emblematic of the Terps in the second half. Layman missed a shot, Pack ran down a hustle rebound and fed a cutting Layman for the dunk and the lead. The Terrapins were in the midst of a 12-2 run that started with Trimble’s three-point play.
Smotrycz hit a three during the run and Layman had six points, including a baseline jumper to make it 43-37 at 11:41.
Miller got two free throws, part of just four points USC Upstate scored over a span of five minutes and 36 seconds as Maryland got rolling. Maryland would push the lead to 49-39 at 9:50 on two free throws by Dodd, following a Smotrycz drive and a Layman baseline jumper.
Dodd had eight points, one shy of his career best, to go with four rebounds. Pack had eight points, seven rebounds, three assists and did most of the heavy-lifting on defense in holding Greene five points below his 16.4 ppg average.
USC Upstate led 28-24 at the half, holding the Terrapins to 25.7 percent shooting (9-for-35), Maryland often content to move the ball around the perimeter instead of attacking the Spartans’ polymorphous 2-3 match-up zone.
“Bad shooting is contagious,” said Turgeon. “I was proud that we continued to guard. A lot of teams would have kept their heads down at the half but we came back.”
Maryland had an early lead in the first half but then went ice cold from the field, missing 21 of their last 26 shots in the half. When Dion Wiley hit a jump shot at 3:01, it was Maryland’s first made jumper in nearly 13 minutes. The Terrapins got a couple of stickbacks during the drought, including two by Smotrycz. The Spartans led by eight when Buchanan hit two free throws to make it 23-15 at 3:56.
Smotrycz got a stickback, Maryland’s first field goal in just over five minutes, and the Terrapins warmed up a little. When Pack hit a 3-pointer off a skip pass from Trimble, Maryland cut it to 28-24 at 1:18.
The Spartans had missed their first six shots to allow Maryland to open an early 9-2 lead. Dodd had two baskets and Nickens, making the first start of his career, had a three. He finished with six points. Dodd’s dunk from Layman gave Maryland the seven-point lead at 15:49.
But the Spartans scored the next seven points, and a Cuthbertson 3-pointer at 11:52, brought them to within 10-9. The Terrapins were in a stretch where they got only two field goals –both on stickbacks – over the next eight minutes and 27 seconds.
USC Upstate was on a 19-5 spree that would see the Spartans lead 21-14 at 6:01 on Miller’s lay-up. The Spartans first took the lead at 9:04 when ShunQuez Stephens hit one-of-two free throws to make it 13-12. They took the lead for good in the half at 15-14 on a Greene drive that made it 15-14. Jon Graham had just scored inside to put Maryland back in front.
The Terps travel to Oklahoma State Dec. 21. Maryland’s next home game isn’t until Dec. 27, when Oakland comes to Xifinity.
Smotrycz Returns, Terps Rally to Beat Upstate
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