For the first time since Jan. 14, Maryland men’s basketball walked off the floor on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The No. 9-ranked Terps saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end Feb. 23 at Ohio State.
The No. 25 Buckeyes simply looked like the better team for most of the afternoon. They led for more than 30 minutes of game time, pulling ahead late in the first half and never surrendering their advantage. Ohio State led 40-33 at halftime and started the second half on a 7-0 run to go up 14, and even though Maryland got as close as three points down the stretch, the Buckeyes always had an answer and eventually won, 79-72.
Luther Muhammad turned in a career-best performance, notching 22 points thanks to four 3-pointers and an 8-of-8 mark at the free-throw line. Kaleb Wesson chipped in 15 points and nine rebounds, while Duane Washington Jr. added 13 points and Andre Wesson and CJ Walker each scored 12.
Aaron Wiggins gave Maryland a career-high 20 points on six 3-pointers, and fellow sophomore Eric Ayala added 16 points for the Terps. But the two superstars didn’t fill up the stat sheet like usual. Anthony Cowan Jr. recorded just 10 points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field, while Jalen Smith saw his double-double streak come to an end with eight points and seven rebounds.
Here’s what stood out from Maryland’s first defeat in 40 days.
1. The Terps’ superstars couldn’t take over.
Smith entered this contest with nine consecutive double-doubles to his name and racked up 22 points and 19 rebounds his last time out. Cowan was the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week after scoring the final 11 points in the game Michigan State Feb. 15. But neither made enough noise Feb. 23.
Smith battled foul trouble in the first half and had just two points and four rebounds in 11 minutes at intermission. He got more involved offensively in the second half, but went 3-of-8 from the field and missed all three attempts from distance. His eight points ties a season low, and his rebound total was its lowest since Jan. 10.
Cowan, meanwhile, got to the line frequently and made 8 of 9 free throws. But he registered just four field-goal attempts and didn’t make one until a running layup with 3:54 remaining. After this play, though, Cowan expressed frustration with the no-call and was ultimately whistled for a technical. This was his fifth personal foul, disqualifying him from the game. It was … not a popular decision.
2. The Buckeyes shot their way to victory.
Ohio State has shot the ball well all season — its 37.8 percent clip from long range was best in the conference entering Feb. 23 — and the shots fell early and often in this one. The Buckeyes made 10 of their first 19 triples, with Muhammad starting 4-of-5. The Wesson brothers and Walker chipped in two 3-pointers apiece.
Oddly enough, the Buckeyes didn’t hit a three for the final 15:52 of game time, missing their last five attempts. But they made up for it with their free-throw shooting. After starting just 2-of-6 from the charity stripe, Ohio State made 21 (!!!) consecutive foul shots and finished 23-of-28. This kept the Buckeyes ahead when Maryland made a run, and it helped them ice the game in the final minute.
3. Ohio State dominated on the boards.
The final rebounding margin was 36-27 in Ohio State’s favor, one of Maryland’s worst performances in the category this season (the Terps were minus-10 on the boards in wins at Indiana and Illinois). Maryland has been up-and-down on the glass throughout conference play, but this was one of the first times it proved costly.
The Buckeyes especially made hay on the offensive glass — they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds while giving up just six to Maryland, which led to a 14-5 advantage in second-chance points. Kaleb Wesson and CJ Liddell had three offensive boards each, while Andre Wesson and Kyle Young (who left in the first half with an apparent ankle injury) had two. Ohio State finished with a stellar 38.2 percent offensive rebounding rate.
4. Maryland’s supporting cast stepped up to keep it close.
Wiggins led the Terps’ comeback efforts, finishing 6-of-13 on 3-pointers en route to his career-high 20 points. Ayala went 5-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-8 from distance to finish with 16. Donta Scott tallied 10 points on just five shots, while Darryl Morsell chipped in eight points. This quartet finished 19-of-38 from the floor and 10-of-24 from distance.
The deeper bench, as usual, didn’t factor much into the scoresheet. But 7-foot-2 freshman Chol Marial turned in 11 productive minutes while Smith battled foul trouble; he was the only Terp to finish with a positive plus/minus on the day. He grabbed two rebounds and contested a handful of Kaleb Wesson’s shots down low.
Also of note, Hakim Hart saw his first game action since Jan. 10 at Iowa, checking in at the 14:37 mark of the first half and logging five minutes. With Serrel Smith Jr. failing to find a rhythm on offense, Turgeon took a chance on the freshman, who came to Maryland with a reputation as a shooter, but Hart took one three and bricked it. It’ll be interesting to monitor what happens here going forward.
5. The Terps are still in prime position.
Maryland had a good weekend before even stepping on the court at Ohio State. Losses by No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 4 San Diego State one day earlier had brought the Terps within striking distance of a projected No. 1 seed. And with Penn State losing Feb. 23 at Indiana, Maryland had a chance to move three games clear of the field with four Big Ten contests remaining.
As it stands, the Terps are 22-5 overall and 12-4 in the league, two games ahead of second place. They’ll clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with two wins in the last four contests, and a 3-1 finish ensures a standalone championship. And while they’re still a No. 2 seed in most projections, there are still plenty of chances to boost the resume.
The loss at Ohio State showed what we already knew — Maryland’s good but not invincible. Now it’s on the Terps to regroup and bounce back with a win Feb. 26 against a hungry Minnesota team.
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