Before the Maryland men’s basketball team’s matchup against No. 22 Ohio State, former head coach Gary Williams spoke with the Terps about the importance of wearing the Maryland uniform. The speech left senior guard Eric Ayala with goosebumps. This year’s team wanted to make the champions proud.
And it did.
As the final buzzer sounded in Xfinity Center, fans jumped ecstatically from their seats. Maryland’s players threw their arms in the air and wore enormous smiles across their faces. The Terps (14-15, 6-12 Big Ten) defeated Ohio State (18-8, 11-6 Big Ten), 75-60, on Sunday, Feb. 27.
“You felt their presence,” graduate guard Fatts Russell said. “They came in the locker room, and Coach Williams said a couple words, and he gave us motivation. When he talks, everybody listens. Seeing all the guys walk in there — Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, all of them — it was like we went out there just trying not to disappoint them. It was a legendary night, and I’m glad we fought as hard as we did to get the win.”
Xfinity Center was electric from the opening tipoff, as fans filled the arena while wearing white T-shirts in honor of the 2002 team. Ayala scored the first basket of the game. It was exactly what the Terps needed to continue the energy.
Seconds later, junior forward Donta Scott drained a 3-pointer to give the Terps a 5-0 lead. Russell then grabbed a rebound, sprinted back down the court and drilled a 3-pointer. The basket marked Russell’s 2,000th career point and gave the Terps an 8-0 lead.
“It’s been a long five years,” Russell said of his accomplishment. “It means a lot to achieve that milestone for our family and friends.”
Ohio State came out firing after a timeout. Junior forward E.J. Liddell responded for the Buckeyes, scoring the team’s first basket nearly four minutes into the game.
The Terps’ energy began to fade away, starting with a foul by freshman center Julian Reese. The Buckeyes scored on their following two possessions, and they soon claimed their first lead of the game (11-10).
Reese committed another foul that sent Liddell to the free-throw line. He made all three shots, giving Ohio State a 14-12 lead. Reese returned to the bench after only two minutes of play.
After Maryland’s initial energy disappeared, it had to find an answer as soon as possible. About midway through the first half, Russell found junior center Qudus Wahab in the paint. The Georgetown transfer turned around for the dunk, tied the score at 14 and provided his team with some much-needed energy.
Maryland held a tight four-point lead (32-28) at the end of the first half. Ayala led the Terps with 13 points. However, Liddell only had seven points for the Buckeyes.
“Defensively, I really liked our effort, especially guarding the 3-point line,” Maryland interim head coach Danny Manning said. “I thought we were disruptive enough to disrupt their rhythm.”
Wahab scored the first basket of the second half inside the paint. Scott followed with a jumper of his own, but Ohio State did not back down. Graduate guard Jamari Wheeler made two 3-pointers and a layup to cut the Buckeyes’ deficit to two points (38-36).
But Maryland did not want a repeat of the last matchup, an 82-67 loss earlier in the month. Both teams traded baskets for much of the second half until the Terps pulled away.
The Terps’ veterans were crucial toward the end of the game. With about five minutes left in the game, Scott grabbed an offensive rebound and passed the ball to Russell, who drained a shot from behind the arc. The 3-pointer gave the Terps an eight-point lead (61-53).
“Donta’s offensive rebounds were really big,” Manning said. “A couple times, he was boxed out, and he just pursued the basketball. It gave us a chance to get 17 second-chance points, which was huge for us.”
A couple possessions later, Scott stole the ball to put his team back on offense. Ayala drained a 3-pointer to give Maryland an 11-point lead (64-53). Soon after, Ayala made a layup, got fouled and converted a free throw.
Maryland held a commanding 15-point lead (72-57) with almost two minutes left in the game, thanks to another 3-pointer from Russell. He did it again seconds later.
Russell led the Terps with 27 points on the day, while Ayala had 23 points.
“Their backcourt was tremendous,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “We had no answer for their backcourt.”
Manning was pleased with his team’s 43-point second half.
“In the second half, we did a much better job,” Manning said. “We got the ball downhill on drives. We were able to draw some fouls that way as well. We were able to put pressure on Ohio State by getting paint touches.”
The Terps are confident that this game provided them with the right momentum for the final stretch of the season and the Big Ten tournament.
“We’ve got a lot of competitors, man,” Ayala said. “We live for these kinds of moments. We all are fighting for something, and at a time like this, we are dangerous. If a team comes in front of us, they are going to get a fight, for sure.”
Here are other notable aspects of the Terps’ win:
1. The Terps supported Ukraine.
Sophomore forward Pavlo Dziuba, a native of Kyiv, Ukraine, stepped onto the court before the game with a Ukrainian flag wrapped around his body. He kept the flag on the back of his seat during the game and exited the court with the flag once again around his 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame.
Several Maryland players wore blue armbands during the game.
“It’s just a show of support for Pav,” Manning said. “I can’t imagine — I don’t know what to say. You turn on the TV, and you see all types of projectiles falling through the air. You know he has family members there and friends and people he cares for. I’m pretty sure he’s seen some familiar places or what used to look familiar on TV that doesn’t look the same right now. It’s just for us to let him know we support him and love him.”
2. Maryland did not receive contributions from its bench offensively.
Freshman center Julian Reese, graduate guard Xavier Green and sophomore guard Ian Martinez combined for two points. Green had the only points. However, the trio combined for 12 rebounds.
3. Maryland earned its third win against a ranked opponent.
The Terps beat a ranked opponent for the third time this season. Maryland took down then-No. 20 Florida, 70-68, on Dec. 12, and then-No. 17 Illinois, 81-65, on Jan. 21.
Again, veterans were the key, specifically Ayala and Russell.
“Whenever your backcourt goes for eight [3-pointers] on 15 shots, you have a chance to be successful,” Manning said. “Those guys also had some moments where they were facilitating and getting into the paint, drawing fouls, and that was big.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics