Who: No. 25 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Maryland
Where: Value City Arena — Columbus, Ohio
When: Sunday, 4:00 p.m. ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a season of meteoric highs and sinking lows, this matchup is one that can make it or break it for the Ohio State Buckeyes' season
The Buckeyes started the year with a bang, riding the high expectations and ranking as far up as No. 2 in the Associated Press (AP) poll. Since Big Ten Conference play has started, that smooth sailing turned into choppy waters.
Following a loss to West Virginia, Ohio State lost five of their first six conference games, including a 67-55 loss to the Maryland Terrapins, falling right out of the AP top 25.
Since a brutal loss at Value City Arena to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on a Marcus Carr game winning three, the Buckeyes have started to right that ship — winning five of their last seven games. Ohio State now sits at 17-9 overall (7-8 Big Ten) and faces a tough matchup with the No. 7 Terrapins in Columbus.
In the last matchup against Maryland on Jan. 7, Ohio State struggled mightily to make shots, shooting only 31.3% from the field. The Wesson brothers contributed 29 of Ohio State’s 55 points, with Kaleb Wesson picking up nine rebounds.
Ohio State controlled the rebounding advantage over Maryland but could not find ways to stop the deadly duo of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. Cowan Jr. had 20 points in the game and has since averaged 16.7 points per game.
OHIO STATE PREVIEW
Ohio State comes into the matchup with Maryland tomorrow fresh off an 85-76 loss at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa shot a scorching 55.8% from the field, led by Wooden Award candidate Luka Garza’s 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Coach Chris Holtmann rotated Kaleb Wesson, Kyle Young and EJ Liddell to guard Garza, finding no way to slow him down. Garza’s performance made it 12-straight conference games with at least 20 points.
Liddell had his best performance of the season, putting up a career-high 17 points off the bench.
Duane Washington Jr. score 15, along with CJ Walker’s 11 points and 7 assists. A normally dominant Ohio State defense allowed Iowa to impart their will right from the opening tip.
“We could never climb back after the first five minutes,” Holtmann said.
The matchup with Iowa is not reflective of Ohio State’s games as a whole. Ohio State only ranks No. 154 in overall points per game nationally but wins with their ability to suffocate teams on the defensive end. Eight players average over six points per game, led by junior center Kaleb Wesson, who averages 13.9 points per game, 9.3 rebounds and 41.6% from beyond the arc.
Despite the issues facing the team this year, the Buckeyes are still very much in play for a decent seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 7 Maryland Terrapins are right where they want to be: No. 1 in the Big Then, No. 7 nationally, and on a red-hot streak through the month of February. Since back-to-back losses to conference foes Iowa and Wisconsin, the Terrapins have won nine straight games — their last win a 76-67 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats in College Park last Tuesday night.
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith dominated the Wildcats, collecting a career-high 19 rebounds as well as 22 points. On Maryland’s nine game win streak, Smith has averaged 18.9 points and 12.7 rebounds per game.
Maryland controlled the game from the opening tip, controlling the lead for the entirety of the game. Maryland did not shoot extraordinarily well, only 41% from the field, but the Terrapins dominated at the free throw line, knocking down 18-of-22 free throws.
Maryland is led by the 26th-ranked defense in the country. Smith averages 2.3 blocks per game while also putting in his work on the offensive end, averaging 15.4 points per game. He also leads the team in rebounds with 10.4 boards per game.
Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. leads the team at 16.7 points per game and has played a team high in minutes this season.
Following the last game to Northwestern, head coach Mark Turgeon was thrilled with the way his team has been performing lately.
"I keep thinking our best basketball is still ahead of us, and we've played pretty well," Turgeon said. “We've got to lock in, get better and do the best we can, but it's nice to be on top right now."
Maryland has won seven of their last eight games against Ohio State. The most recent match came in January at College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins won 67-55.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Buckeyes enter Sunday afternoon’s matchup in need of a quality victory. This is a Maryland team that is on a roll and have won nine straight games coming into the game
For Ohio State, they have to be able to create their own shots. Against Iowa, Ohio State struggled to get easy shots heading towards the basket and that led to a stagnant offensive attack.
An area Ohio State can look to exploit Maryland is in the lack of Maryland’s depth. Maryland tends to go just one or two deep off the bench, relying heavily on their starters for production. The Buckeyes have a much deeper bench than Maryland and should look to force Cowan Jr. and Smith to work extra hard on both ends of the floor.
For Maryland, they have to be able to force Ohio State to become a perimeter-oriented team. While the Buckeyes have plenty of capable shooters, Ohio State does most of its damage through Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young down low. If the Terrapins can force Ohio State into tough, outside shots, Maryland can control their own destiny within the game.
Prediction: Maryland 74 Ohio State 65