Ohio State’s visit to Maryland on Tuesday should be a revealing look at each powerhouse program early in the Big Ten Conference schedule, with the Buckeyes desperate to snap a sudden and surprising two-game losing streak and the Terrapins looking to add to a two-game win streak.
Both teams started fast this season, the 11th-ranked Buckeyes (11-3, 1-2) winning their first nine games before falling in three of the last five contests.
Twelth-ranked Maryland (12-2, 2-1) also stumbled in early December and is trying to fit new players in new roles after some attrition — the pending transfer of the 6-10 Mitchell brothers, Makhi and Mahkel — as they rang in the New Year.
The Buckeyes were ranked as high as No. 2 a couple of weeks ago, but are now staring at back-to-back losses, including Friday’s 61-57 home loss to unranked Wisconsin. The Terrapins, who were third in the Associated Press poll in early December, hope they’ve already overcome their crisis — back-to-back losses at Penn State and Seton Hall, followed by consecutive wins the last two games, including Saturday’s impressive 75-59 dismantling of Indiana, their first conference game without the Mitchells.
“What a great day for us,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon after his Terrapins held the Hoosiers to just 36.1-percent shooting and scored 25 points off turnovers. “We’ve been a good defensive team all year. We’ve been a pretty good rebounding team all year. Today we got outrebounded [42-36] but we really locked into the scouting report, and we really wanted to play defense without fouling, and once we stopped going for every shot fake … our guys locked in and were better.”
The scouting report against Ohio State will be similar. The hard-nosed Buckeyes are big around the basket with 6-9 preseason All-conference pick Kaleb Wesson and steady 6-8 Kyle Young, and they have a deep bench, including second-leading scorer Duane Washington Jr., who chips in 11.8 points per game.
Meanwhile, coach Chris Holtmann’s defense-minded crew could make life hard for the Terrapins on offense, the Buckeyes allowing a conference-low 58.4 points per game and yielding just 29.8 percent 3-point shooting, also a league-best mark. They’ve allowed more than 67 points just twice this season.
Ohio State’s recent woes have been fueled by issues on the offensive end. The Buckeyes haven’t been deadeyes, shooting just 35.8 percent the last two games and committing 35 turnovers over that span.
“It’s incumbent upon us as coaches and players to figure it out and get better with it,” said Holtmann of the offense, seventh in the Big Ten at 76.1 points per game.
Wesson has been a bright spot, averaging 14.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Terrapins can counter with their own versatile, inside-outside weapon in 6-10 Jalen “Stix” Smith. Smith had 19 points and eight rebounds to lead the offense against Indiana. When the Terrapins started 3-for-16 from the field, Smith canned back-to-back 3-pointers and turned the tide of the game.
Smith leads the Terrapins with 9.9 rebounds and is second with 13.5 points. Senior point guard Anthony Cowan leads the offense at 16.4 points and 4.3 assists.
The Terrapins need a victory before taking to the road to meet No. 23 Iowa on Friday, and Wisconsin on Jan. 14. Four of Maryland’s next five games are on the road.
Ohio State is also in a stretch of three of four games away from home, including Saturday’s trip to Indiana.
–Field Level Media