The Maryland Terrapins narrowly avoided an upset against Rutgers on Wednesday night despite trailing for the majority of the game. The team showed off some of that patented resiliency that has allowed them to come out on top in 16 of 18 contests so far this year, and they’re still continuing on in what has been an amazing season.
Games like Rutgers, where Maryland shot 34% from the floor as a team, will happen on a squad’s path to the tournament. What matters is that you can come out on top against hot teams even at your worst, and that’s what Maryland did.
1.) Evan Smotrycz has to get back on track for Maryland to become the best team they can be.
Maybe it was just my own personal observations, but when Smotrycz is able to come in and competently play at the high post (the same spot a team like, say, the Mavericks, play Dirk), Maryland is a completely different force. No one on the team runs that position better than Smotrycz, and putting Layman there still doesn’t give Maryland the fluidity on offense that makes them truly deadly.
Smotrycz is never going to be a defensive player. He’s just not that kind of guy. But for maybe ten plays a game, why not just let Smotrycz run the point forward position? He’s so talented offensively that even though he may get crushed on defense, he’ll hurt you in so many other ways on the offensive end. He doesn’t have to run it full time, but for a few plays a game Maryland could utilize him there to get out of a bogged down offense.
Smotrycz is crafty from there, using an array of pump fakes to allow defenders to collapse and open up shooters (like when he found Trimble and Nickens open in the corners) and has the requisite vision to find them. His stat line wasn’t major (seven points, six rebounds, two assists over 22 minutes), but his impact on the game was. Coming into the game he’d only made one of his previous 16 shots, so limiting his minutes seemed to make sense. But now that he’s back on track, Maryland has to get him out there so the floor opens up and the Terps don’t have to take contested shots.
2.) You can hate on Layman and Wells for taking crazy shots late, but they won Maryland the game by taking over.
Unquestionably, Wells and Layman both took some bad shots against Rutgers. They were a combined seven for 27 from the floor and had as many turnovers (6) as assists. But sometimes, you need someone to step up and be aggressive just to make things happen other than the status quo of shooting jumpers that won’t go in.
Let’s look at the facts. Wells was three of five in the first half and two of three from deep. He also didn’t attempt a single free throw. And he didn’t really need to, Maryland was relying on some hot shooting from deep (eight three pointers) to maintain the lead. In the second half, he was one of ten, but he attempted eight of Maryland’s 22 free throws in that half alone because hitting eight of 17 threes is unsustainable for an entire game. When the Terps got cold, Wells forced the issue.
Same goes for Layman, who just had a brutal night all around but since Wells was “marginally” worse he’ll get most of the blame. Layman fell in love with the jumper too much (he only hit one of his six three pointers), but the difference is that he, like Wells, realized when they needed to attack. Layman attempted seven of the 22 free throws in the second half, and it was a result of trying to force things and initiate contact.
I’m not suggesting there weren’t better shots on the floor than some of the errant stuff those two were throwing up in the second half, but I am saying that those shots weren’t going in (which was why Maryland was down in the first place). What Wells and Layman were doing worked well enough to dig the Terps out of a hole and win the game.
3.) This game probably got them focused for Michigan State a bit more, and perhaps to win it again
Probably the most valuable lesson this team got is this: how to win ugly. Believe it or not, it’s an art form to win games while playing your absolute worst. It involves eschewing outside shots and barreling into the paint to try and draw contact and requires sacrificing your body to the maximum. Maryland’s players were taking hard shots in the paint last night (this is coming from a hockey player). A few times I thought Wells might have hurt his wrist he landed so hard, while both Melo Trimble and Dion Wiley took some nasty spills.
But when your shot is not going down, that mentality helps you stay afloat until someone like Jared Nickens starts heating up again. Maryland got that, and they have been doing it over and over this season to the point where you absolutely know this team will be a tough out against almost anyone. Some teams may overwhelm them, but by and large this team just knows how to slow the game down by getting to that free throw line to prevent the game from getting out of hand.
That’s a lesson that will pay off down the road.