Maryland men’s basketball has its first signature win of the 2019-20 campaign.
The No. 12 Terps (13-2, 3-1 Big Ten) took down No. 11 Ohio State Jan. 7 at Xfinity Center, picking up their first win against a ranked opponent this season. After letting the Buckeyes jump out to an early 8-0 lead, Maryland pulled ahead in the middle of the first half and maintained a healthy distance the rest of the evening. The defense was stifling, and the offense was good enough to come away with a 67-55 victory.
Anthony Cowan Jr. didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 6:12 mark in the first half, but he finished with a game-high 20 points (15 in the second half). Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Eric Ayala had six of Maryland’s first nine and finished with nine off the bench.
Ohio State, which dropped its third straight game to fall to 11-4 (1-3 Big Ten), never got its offense going, shooting 31.3 percent, its second-lowest mark of the season. Kaleb Wesson tallied 15 points while Andre Wesson and D.J. Carton had 14 each, but the supporting cast was woefully ineffective.
1. The defense stole the show once again.
Maryland entered this game holding opponents to 37.7 percent field-goal shooting for the season, a top-25 mark in the country. And the Terps’ length and physicality on the defensive end gave yet another team fits in this contest. Ohio State went 21-of-67 from the floor and connected on a season-worst 5 of 27 threes.
The Buckeyes had some success in the low post, tallying 32 points in the paint, but Maryland’s guards were lockdown on the perimeter. Second-leading scorer Duane Washington Jr. and regular starter Luther Muhammad went 2-for-11 and 0-for-6, respectively. The point guard duo of Carton and CJ Walker combined to shoot 7-of-21. After Ohio State got within two points early in the second half, Maryland forced 12 straight misses and took over the game.
“Their length provides obviously a lot of problems,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said after the game. “And Mark [Turgeon] does a really good job with discipline. They don’t foul. I’ve always felt like Mark’s teams are really smart in how they defend you — even the young guys, they make smart plays.”
2. Donta Scott was a force.
Throughout the year, there’s been a noticeable gap between Maryland’s five best players and the rest of the team. But Scott, who’s now started four straight contests as a stretch power forward, is closing that gap quickly.
The 6-foot-7 freshman turned in perhaps his best performance of the year, logging a season-high 33 minutes and tallying seven points, five rebounds and two assists. Like the rest of the team, he was also impressive on the defensive end.
“It’s funny because he’s kind of holding back a little bit because he’s just trying to fit in and do what coach asks,” Turgeon said. “He made some big-time passes. I thought his defense was terrific. He’s just always trying to please as a player, and I think he’s just getting started.”
Turgeon later indicated that he’s become comfortable with the current rotation, which suggests Scott will continue to start going forward. If he keeps playing at this level, it could add a different dimension for Maryland on both ends of the court.
3. The big men held their own against Kaleb Wesson.
Ohio State’s dominance early in the season centered primarily on Wesson, who dropped 20 pounds in the summer and started the year playing at an All-American level. The center entered the game Jan. 7 averaging 14.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and there were legitimate questions regarding how the Terps would handle his 6-foot-9, 270-pound frame.
But Jalen Smith, 45 pounds lighter than his counterpart, held his own (with some help from reserve centers Chol Marial and Joshua Tomaic, plus occasional doubles). Wesson shot 5-of-13 from the floor en route to his 15 points. He did have nine rebounds, and Ohio State led 39-36 on the glass, but Wesson also struggled with foul trouble, picking up his second at the 5:15 mark of the first half and his fourth with 7:29 remaining in the game.
“It was a huge physical matchup,” Smith said. “I knew coming into the game it was gonna be a challenge just trying to use my speed and my quickness to get around him, but overall, I did my best and we came out with the win.”
When asked to grade his performance against the Buckeyes’ big man, Smith gave himself “something in the range” of a C+ to B-, but teammates and both coaches had much higher praise.
“I feel like he’s just grown so much mentally,” Darryl Morsell said. “Last year, he woulda gotten scored on and maybe shut down, maybe needed somebody to motivate him. He’s self-motivated this year, and it’s what we need.”
4. The Terps’ 3-point shooting came alive.
Long range hasn’t been kind to Maryland this year (30.7 percent entering Jan. 7). So naturally, nearly the entire first-half offense came from behind the arc. Maryland went 7-of-11 on threes in the opening period, compared to just 1-of-9 on twos.
The second half was more lackluster from distance, as the Terps were just 1-of-7, but they still averaged out at 44.4 percent (8-of-18) for the game. That’s their second-best clip of the season and just their second time finishing above 39 percent (they were 7-of-14 against Bryant). And the eight triples were distributed among six different players.
“I wasn’t surprised because we’ve been shooting the ball really well in practice and scrimmages,” Turgeon said. “Our last three charted practices, we’ve shot close to 60 percent and close to 42 or 43 percent from three. So as a coach, you always know it starts in practice and eventually gets to games.”
5. Now to the road.
Maryland is now 9-0 at Xfinity Center this season, including 3-0 in conference home games. But the Terps are still 0-2 in true road contests, losing sloppy battles with Penn State and Seton Hall.
After holding serve at home against Indiana and Ohio State, the Terps will face two road tests in the coming week. First up is Iowa Jan. 10, followed by Wisconsin Jan. 14. KenPom’s predictive model gives them a 47 percent and 49 percent chance in those games, respectively, projecting a pair of one-point losses. But if Maryland can come away with a split, it’ll keep its momentum going. And a sweep would cement the Terps as a national contender again.
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