- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2015

As he addressed his team in the locker room Saturday afternoon, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s eyes shifted to a senior forward who had missed each of his five shots in the recently-concluded game.

Evan, I know it’s been a tough year,” Turgeon said. “But you were phenomenal today. Congratulations.”

The numbers didn’t tell Evan Smotrycz’s story on this day. They rarely do. In the 14th-ranked Terrapins’ 66-56 victory over Michigan, Smotrycz finished with one point, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. Not among those statistics are the instances in which he penetrated Michigan’s zone and kicked the ball to an open teammate, who passed it again to eventually create an open shot. Nor his sturdy low post defense that gave the Wolverines fits all game. Nor his subtle movements that spaced the floor, allowing the offense to run more smoothly.

“I just want to be able to affect the game in whatever ways I can,” Smotrycz said.

From the stands at the Xfinity Center, and couches in homes across the country, these aspects of Smotrycz’s game are not always appreciated. Though he is in the midst of an 0-for-11 drought from the floor and hasn’t made a field goal since Feb. 14, Smotrycz has been able to influence games in other ways. On Saturday, it was his penetration.

“He was the one guy that could figure out the zone,” Turgeon said. “We tried Dez, we tried different guys in there. Finally we had the right lineup. I went with Evan, we put Evan in there, and he was dialing it up. … Evan would pass-fake, suck the defense in and make plays. He was good.”

SEE ALSO: No. 14 Maryland caps undefeated home slate in first Big Ten season

Saturday’s game had extra meaning for Smotrycz, who participated in Senior Day festivities with his current team, then took the court to face his old one. He spent the first two years of his collegiate career at Michigan, even winning the team’s annual sixth man award as a freshman, before deciding to leave the program in 2012. He and his family have since said Michigan just wasn’t a good fit.

“It was a very, very difficult decision for Evan,” his mother, Charleen Smotrycz, told The Ann Arbor News at the time. “But he said, in essence, he really needed to find his happiness.”

Smotrycz eventually chose Maryland over Colorado and Providence. After sitting out the 2012-13 season because of the NCAA’s transfer policy, he started 28 of 31 games for the Terrapins last year, averaging a career-high 11 points and six rebounds per game.

He seemed destined to take another step forward as a senior before the injuries struck. Smotrycz broke his left foot, then sprained his left ankle, then broke his right thumb. Following Saturday’s game, he admitted he has recently been playing through a sprained knee.

“It’s been frustrating just because I’ve been dealing with injuries and stuff,” Smotrycz said. “It’s just been me trying to find ways to kind of impact the game and get other guys going, too.”

Though Smotrycz is averaging just 4.5 points in 20.1 minutes per game this season, each the lowest since his freshman year, his impact has not gone unnoticed. After playing in Michigan’s zone for two seasons, he said he was able to identify the scheme’s soft spots Saturday, and even recognize some of Beilein’s play calls. On several occasions, he found wide-open freshman Jared Nickens or created space for other shooters. With a little more than eight minutes left, he tipped the ball out to Melo Trimble for an uncontested three.

“He’s a smart player. His IQ’s really high,” Nickens said. “And he’s really good defensively. You wouldn’t know that by looking at him, but he’s good at beating people to the spot. He understands angles really well. He doesn’t foul much. He keeps his hands up. So he brings a lot to the team.”

Between the injuries and shooting struggles, it’s been a frustrating season for Smotrycz, and he admits that. But in that frustration, there has also been growth.

“I think mentally I’ve learned how to kind of stay positive and affect the game in different ways if I’m kind of slow a step because of my knee or my foot or something,” Smotrycz said. “It’s definitely not like I’ll just put [this season] behind me. You pick up things along the way and it all adds to your game.”

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