Wells, Smotrycz Muck Up Michigan’s Zone

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland defeated Michigan 66-56 Feb. 28 at the Xfinity Center.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In the world of stocks and bonds, it’s called insider-trading and offenders go to prison. In college basketball, well, all’s fair and Evan Smotrycz’s inside scoop on the Michigan zone helped No. 14 Maryland finally send the Wolverines away.

Among seven Maryland seniors in their final home game, Smotrycz was the right man in the right place in the 66-56 Big Ten win over Michigan Saturday afternoon. Maryland (24-5, 12-4) won for the fifth straight time and steeled themselves with a bit more momentum heading back to the road for the final two regular season games in this inaugural Big Ten season.

Smotrcyz, having transferred from Michigan three years ago, was a little more familiar with the Big Ten and a lot more intimate with the Wolverines’ 1-3-1 zone. “I played the zone at Michigan for a couple of years so I think that had some influence,” he said. “I was able to pick some spots. The guys I got the ball to, they’re the ones that really made the plays.”

In a key stretch early in the second half, though, it was Smtorycz, in the middle of that zone, twice making a ball fake and reversing it to Jared Nickens for three-pointers, and then tipping his own miss out to Melo Trimble for another big three, as the Terrapins started to pull away for their 18th victory in 19 home starts.

“I told Evan that I knew it had been a tough year for him, but I told him that he played phenomenally today,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “He was the one guy that could figure out the zone. He missed a few shots but defensively he was terrific. His ball screens were terrific and post defense was great, too. I am really happy for him.”

Smotrcyz’s contributions in the low post against the bigger Wolverines (14-14, 7-9) were particularly key when the Terrapins lost 7-1 freshman Michal Cekovsky to a knee injury in warm-ups. Coming off one of his best games in the win over Wisconsin, “Ceko” will undergo an MRI to determine his status.

Smotrcyz didn’t post the prettiest stat-line with 0-5 shooting but a season-high nine rebounds and four assists, plus a heaping helping of that post defense were just the tonic the Terps needed to finally put Michigan away.

Turgeon, so worried of the emotional fallout of the 59-53 upset of No. 5 Wisconsin on Tuesday, and the Senior Day festivities at Xfinity, even got to clear his bench in the final minute and get all the seniors a curtain call.

“To be able to play everybody, to honor 11 seniors (including managers) was really hard to do in six minutes,” said Turgeon of a hectic pregame, including Cekovsky’s injury and an unusual starting lineup. “We made ESPN wait, which doesn’t happen very often. A lot of seniors played well for us and we got everybody in.”

Building Momentum After Emotional Start Dez Wells had 13 points and six rebounds in his final Xfinity appearance, one that began with him with tears in his eyes holding his framed jersey above his head in the pregame ceremonies, and ended with Wells crashing into the locker room and yelling to his teammates about the undefeated Big Ten mark Maryland posted at home.

“We finished 9-0 in the league which is hard to do,” said Turgeon. “I’m not exactly sure but I’m 99 percent sure that this is my first team in 17 years that has gone undefeated at home in league play, and I’ve had a lot of really good teams.”

This Terrapin team, now one win away from Turgeon’s best Maryland record of 25 victories two years ago, certainly qualifies as a “really good team.” Trimble led the way with a quiet 19 points and five assists, and Jake Layman had 10 points on a tough shooting day (2-of-8 from three). Overall, though, Maryland was 11-22 behind the arc, the Terrapins’ best percentage there in nine games.

“Thank god for Jared Nickens,” joked Wells of the freshman’s 3-of-5 shooting from deep. Everybody else was bricking.” Nickens finished with nine points in 17 minutes.

“The zone they played, there were a lot of open spots off penetration,” said Nickens. “When Dez and Melo penetrated, the wings were open, or if Evan caught it in the middle then a lot of spots were wide open.”

The Wolverines switched between that pesky zone and man-to-man much of the day to keep the Terrapins off balance but at the other end, Maryland’s defense held them to 36.5 percent shooting (19-of-52), the fifth opponent below 40 percent in the last seven games. The Terrapins battled to a 32-30 edge on the boards, and didn’t let coach John Beilien’s bunch get started from long distance. Michigan was 5-of-21 behind the arc.

“I really love the Maryland team,” said Beilein. “They have a thing you don’t find a lot today with four or five seniors that all they want to do is win. They have a great plan. They guard you just well enough. They have a lot of people that can put points up on the board. Watching them throw the ball around and share, it’s good for college basketball and a great representation of how you should play the right way.”

Beilein’s team started the second half strong, Zak Irvin nailing a 3-pointer, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hitting a jumper to slice Maryland’s nine-point halftime lead to 30-26.

All the Terrapins had to show for the first four minutes, 40 seconds of the second half was pairs of free throws by Jon Graham and by Trimble. The Terrapins were having trouble getting good looks against the aggressive Michigan 1-3-1 zone until Smotrycz made a wondrous ball-fake to Trimble and then reversed to a wide-open Nickens, who drained a 3-pointer at 15:19 to make it 37-30.

Smotrycz hit one of two free throws after he was fouled on a drive the next time down to push the lead to eight points. Irvin got two free throws for Michigan, and then Smotrcyz used another ball-fake to free up Nickens again, 3-pointer, 41-32 lead at 13:56. The Wolverines switched to man-to-man defense.

Trailing by nine a few minutes later, Michigan crept back. Wells fouled Irvin on a 3-point attempt and Irvin hit all three free throws at 11:55 to make it 43-37. Neither team scored again until diminutive Spike Albrecht nailed a 3-pointer at 8:39 to make it a three-point game.

Melo Makes Plays

Smotrycz, who had helped open the lead drove to the basket, missed, but smacked the rebound out to Trimble on the baseline. Trimble coolly canned a three at 8:16 to make it 46-40.

“I didn’t think Melo was very good and I look at the stat sheet, and he has 19 points,” said Turgeon. “He was really good down the stretch. They tried to double him on ball screens and he still beat it and he hit shots when he had open looks.”

After Irvin hit a jumper, Smotrycz again found Trimble open for a 3-pointer that made it 49-42. Michigan’s Cameron Chatman scored inside but Wells answered with a turnaround at 6:15, his first points of the second half.

Maryland led 51-44, and the Wolverines wouldn’t get closer than eight the rest of the way.

Trimble was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three freebies to push the Maryland lead to 10, but Albrecht snuck inside and earned two free throws. After three straight misses behind the arc in the half, Layman hit a baseline trey off a Trimble drive, and next time down, Wells hit from the same spot, and Maryland led 60-48 with 3:30 remaining.

“I didn’t love Dez’ shot in the corner but he made it, put us up 12,” said Turgeon. “It was a little quick in the shot clock for me, and then they hit a couple. I just wanted to get these kids in.”

Irvin and Albrecht, who each finished with 15 points, hit 3-pointers around a Wells drive-and-score, and Smotrycz missed a chippie and then missed again on his rebound.

It didn’t’ hurt Maryland, though, as Albrecht missed a three and Wells, in the delay game, fed Layman for a dunk at 1:18 to make it 64-54. Layman got a steal and Trimble scored on a drive for Maryland’s final points.

With 33.6 seconds left, Turgeon got to insert seniors Varun Ram, Jacob Susskind and Spencer Barks, and reinsert Jon Graham. Graham was replaced by Damonte Dodd seconds later to a large ovation from the sellout crowd of 17,950. It was Maryland’s second straight sellout and the third this season.

Turgeon thanked Lauren Taylor of the athletic department’s sports marketing staff (she’s the one behind the flash mobs and driving attendance), his players and the fans.

“Our fans would not let us lose so that is why you come to Maryland, to be part of that,” said Turgeon. “We had a great crowd today but it wasn’t the Wisconsin crowd. We were flat. We were emotionally spent.”

Turgeon was so concerned about a “letdown” that he admitted he had “probably practiced the team too hard” this week. “We just gutted it out. Our defense was really good. Then once we figured out the 1-3-1, that was the difference.

The Terrapins take their winning streak on the road for the final two games, Tuesday at Rutgers and next Sunday at Nebraska. “We still have a lot to play for and hopefully we are remembered for more than just being undefeated at home in conference play,” said Smotrycz.

Run to End First Half

Maryland led 30-21 at the half thanks to a 12-0 run over the last 4:40 of the opening stanza. The Terrapins hit three 3-pointers over that stretch, and were 5-of-11 behind the arc for the half despite shooting just 40 percent overall. That was torrid compared to Michigan’s 8-of-25 (32 percent) effort, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range.

In a half that saw nine lead changes and four ties, though, the Wolverines hung around thanks to a scrappy, polymorphous zone that forced seven Terrapin turnovers, including three by Trimble, who seemed off his game before nailing his first field goal – a dagger three – at 26 seconds to make it a 9-point margin at the break. Trimble finished the game with just four turnovers.

The late run started after a timeout, Turgeon setting a play for Layman, who drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the contest 21-21 at 4:40. Richaud Pack’s three put the Terrapins ahead at 2:35, and Wells stuck in a Layman miss to keep the run going.

Michigan’s last score of the half came at 4:58 on a stickback by Ricky Doyle to make it 21-18. The Wolverines never led by more than three points.

Wells, Trimble and Pack, who had two 3-pointers, each had six points to lead Maryland in the first half.

The Terps looked a little jittery on their first possession, a bad Wells pass resulting in an easy Aubrey Dawkins dunk. But the Terrapins netted the next seven points, starting with a Pack three. Seniors Wells, Pack, Smotrcyz and Graham started the game with Trimble. Michigan ran off the next seven points, though, Maryland scoreless for four minutes, 10 seconds before Trimble found Wells for a layup at 12:14 to tie the game, 9-9.

All seven Maryland seniors – Wells, Smotrycz, Graham, Pack, Ram, Barks and Susskind – were honored before the game along with the senior managers, including the deceased Zack Lederer, who would have been a senior this year.

“What they are is they’re all really good people,” said Turgeon. “They all came at different times. Is it an odd class? Yeah, the nature of today’s game, a lot of transfers play on senior day. Two guys that have been with me the whole time are Jake (Susskind) and Spencer. I was happy to get them in. Just a great group of guys that are all leaders and that all put the team first. It’s a special group that I really enjoy being around.”

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