'It's go hard or go home': Mike Smith catches fire as UM bounces Maryland in B1G tourney
Indianapolis — Michigan’s Mike Smith had never been here before.
Despite all the individual success and eye-popping stats he put up during his four years at Columbia, the grad transfer guard never played past the first week of March.
That’s why when he took the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium before Friday’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinal against Maryland, Smith took a moment to soak it all in.
“I walked into the stadium and it's a blessing to be able to play in the (NFL’s Indianapolis) Colts arena,” Smith said. “There was a chip on my shoulder. I've never got a chance to play in the postseason.”
Smith didn’t let the long-awaited opportunity go to waste and made his mark with a record-setting performance, rallying the top-seeded Wolverines from a 12-point first-half deficit and powering them past the No. 8 Terrapins in a 79-66 victory.
Michigan advances to the semifinals and will face No. 5 Ohio State at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Smith showed off his entire package as a playmaker, facilitator and scorer. He finished with a season-high 18 points, made both of his 3-point attempts and set a conference tournament record with 15 assists for Michigan (20-3).
“Going out there today, I felt like the team needed me to do a lot more and I was willing,” Smith said. “I told coach (Juwan Howard) from Day 1 that I'm willing to do whatever the team needs. Today they needed me to score and to assist.
"It's literally win or go home, and I don't want to go home right now. I want to win. By any means, I'm going to help this team try to win.”
Smith served as a catalyst during a 33-11 run over the first and second halves that pulled Michigan out of an early hole and helped the Wolverines overcome a flat start. After Maryland (16-13) caught fire and made eight straight shots to take a 36-24 lead with 4:45 left before halftime, Smith went to work as Michigan went small.
He drove into the lane, rose for a jumper, saw junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. cutting to the rim and dumped it off to him for a layup. On the next possession, Smith lost a defender with a shot fake and drew another off the dribble before he kicked it to senior guard Eli Brooks in the corner for a 3-pointer.
In the final minute of the half, Smith attacked the basket and drew a foul that led to two free throws before knifing his way into the paint and dropping off a pass to sophomore wing Franz Wagner. By the time it was over, Michigan rattled off a 16-2 run and went into the break with a 40-38 lead with Smith demonstratively leading the charge into the locker room.
“The last couple of games we were down, we never fought back, and it showed how much grit this team has and how we can actually do that,” Smith said. “We came back, we fought hard and all my emotions just came out. It's go hard or go home.”
Michigan maintained the momentum and kept rolling in the second half. Freshman center Hunter Dickinson, after being saddle with foul trouble in the first half, got going. Maryland missed open looks as its shooting regressed to the mean. Smith called his own number and knocked down a jumper and drained a 3-pointer. The Wolverines pulled ahead 51-42 with 15:50 remaining.
Michigan continued to widen the gap and capped the flurry with back-to-back 3s from Brooks and Wagner to take a 57-47 lead at the 11:09 mark. Less than 30 seconds later, Michigan coach Juwan Howard and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon got into a fiery exchange during a media timeout that resulted in Howard getting ejected.
After the heated argument, the Terrapins cut the deficit down to five. But the Wolverines quickly responded with a counterpunch, with Wagner and Brooks each burying a deep ball off a feed from Smith to make it 65-52 with 7:23 to go.
Maryland could only manage to pull within six before Smith capped off his stellar outing and stamped Michigan's ticket into the next round by scoring seven straight — two free throws, a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer — for a 76-61 lead with 2:08 left.
“He's a great player. He is really good. He's really fast,” Turgeon said of Smith. “By the way we're guarding them, they made great adjustments and started doing middle ball screens with him, and he just got downhill. Understand that he's a leading scorer and he scored more today, but he's giving up his game for his team and that's what great players do for great teams.
"He was terrific the whole game. He totally controlled the game."
Wagner and Brooks, who made his return to the starting lineup after injuring his left ankle in the regular-season finale, each scored 16, while senior guard Chaundee Brown added 10 points off the bench.
Eric Ayala had 19 points, Darryl Morsell had 16 and Aaron Wiggins 11 for Maryland, which lost to Michigan for the third time this season. The Terrapins shot 36.7% from the field (11-for-30) in the second half, but the bigger problem is they couldn't corral Smith.
"It's hard when you've got a guy come in, you've averaged 20-plus points per game for years when you've been the primary scorer for your team and then you're asked (to play) a different role," Howard said. "Your role is going to change where you can be more of a facilitator but then at the same time reading game-like situations on when to be aggressive as a point guard.
"That's not an easy adjustment to make. It says a lot about Mike's character and about how he wants to put winning and the team first before his own individual stats. Today, Mike displayed a mixture of both. It was a great performance."
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