Some 30 minutes after the Flyers dispatched of St. Louis, 68-63, Smith – wearing a COVID mask that hid his grin – came out of the UD dressing room and spotted Schwade near the top of the steep ramp that leads down to the Arena court.
Smith posed for a photo with the youngster and then signed an autograph to Schwade’s 10-year-old brother, Colin, who was back home. Afterward, Chase FaceTimed his brother to tell him what Smith had done.
You probably would not have gotten the same gushing assessment at the other end of the ramp, down at the Billikens’ dressing room.
Collins came into UD Arena leading the nation in assists and second in the Atlantic 10 Conference in steals. He was averaging 11.1 points per game and was a main reason the Billikens were 10-4.
Collins phonetic namesake is Uri Geller, the famed magician, but on this night it was Malachi Smith who made the Billiken disappear.
On this night, Smith outplayed Collins.
He had 14 points (tied for the team lead with fellow guard Kobe Elvis), eight rebounds and five assists. All night long he was the engine, always in high gear, that drove the Flyers.
While he did have nine assists, Collins committed seven turnovers, had just four points, no steals and ended up fouling out.
Three of the five fouls were drawn by Smith.
It was a frustrating night for Collins and that’s just how Smith wanted it:
“I try to make my defender, my opponent uncomfortable. I know when people get comfortable, they play better. When you’re uncomfortable, it’s harder to play. That’s why I’m just going to keep coming at you, keep attacking you. I want you to be uncomfortable for the whole 40 minutes.
“I try to pick them up at 94 feet and once we get to the half court, I’m still trying to get a deflection and be a pest.”
When he’s in real beast mode, Smith said two things usually happen to his opponents:
“They get mad and they get tired. And when either of those happens, they make mistakes.”
That style of play doesn’t always win friends during the heat of a game. That was especially the case in high school back in New York City.
“I was always getting in altercations,” he said. “Not fighting wise, but where people would get in my face and talk smack or they’d push me. And when that happens, I felt like I’d gotten them. That’s what I’d been trying to do, for sure. I’d done my job.”
Smith said he hasn’t seen such demonstrative reactions in college so far: “But to be honest, I can feel it. I know it’s there.”
That’s why Flyers’ coach Anthony Grant keeps him on the court as much as possible.
Tuesday night Smith played a team-high 36 ½ minutes. In the Flyers last seven games, he’s played over 33 minutes in each.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Grant said. “With every game, (he’s showing) his ability to control the game for us. He’s growing as a leader.
“And that’s what you want to see from your point guard. That’s what we’re asking him to do and he’s trying to take that task on full speed.”
You sometimes forget, Tuesday night was just Smith’s 16th college game.
“I like it that coach has thrown me into the fire as a freshman,” he said. “I feel like he’s showing confidence in me and likes how I’m playing. He’s put the ball in my hands and let me make plays.
“He’s wanting me to take on a leadership role. And I feel like I’m showing that out on the court. I’m trying my best to lead the team.”
Hunger to play
If Smith seems to play with an urgency – a hunger – it’s understandable.
“You’ve got to remember Malachi didn’t play his whole senor year (in high school),” Grant said. “The end of his junior year was cut short by COVID in New York. And he didn’t play his senior summer with AAU.
“Then he came here in the summer and missed the first six weeks of practice with an injury. So he’s catching up to almost two years away from the game. “
After the pandemic sidelined his high school team – St. Raymond’s School for Boys in New York – Smith said he spent every day in the gym working out with his dad.
Once the UD season began, he played just eight minutes off the bench in the season opener against UIC and scored two points. He played over 25 minutes in the next game and, by the fourth, he had become a starter.
“His upside is really good from a learning standpoint and a leadership standpoint,” Grant said. “And we’re going to keep calling on him and raising the bar and pushing forward.”
Elvis, a redshirt freshman who played last season at DePaul, said Smith makes everyone’s game better:
“Mali is a great point guard and whenever he gets in the paint, I try to play off him. He attracts a lot of attention and that helps me and a lot of my teammates get our shots.”
There’s no one he’s helping elevate more than fellow freshman, 6-foot-10 DaRon Holmes II.
Their ever-evolving alley-oop plays produced another rousing dunk Tuesday and it brought many in the cheering crowd to their feet.
“I think he likes playing with me and I love playing with him,” Smith said of Holmes. “I feel like our connection starts off the court, from when we got here in May.
“On the court, we just sense it. He knows I’m going to make the pass. I just gotta give the rock and let him finish it. My goal is to get one ally, at least one oop, for him a game.”
While they’re certainly not in the league of the Jalen Crutcher-to-Obi Toppin aerial act that rocked UD Arena two years ago, Smith said it’s only a matter of time:
“No disrespect to them, but we’re trying to be better than them.”
As for another former Flyer star – his brother Scoochie, a 1,289 point career scorer – he doesn’t want to eclipse him as much as embrace him.
“We talk all the time and not just basketball, but off the court stuff, too,” he said. “He makes sure I’m good and that school is good.”
With the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness policy allowing college athletes to make money off their personage, Smith said he found someone on social media who helped him put together a T-shirt he’ll be selling with the help of Scoochie.
“They’ll be here January 25th,” he said. “It’s got three pictures of me in the middle and has Humble Beast beneath them. Above them it says Maliz World.”
It’s a world where everybody gets signature moment .
For some – like the 12-year-old kid from Dublin – it leaves them smiling and with something to remember.
For others – like the St. Louis point guard who left the Arena unsmiling – it can make for a night they want to forget.