It was a slow start to the game in Columbus, with both teams struggling woefully from the field. With just over four minutes gone at Value City Arena, the score was just 3-1, with Jae'Sean Tate scoring all three points for the Buckeyes. Slowly Marc Loving and D'Angelo Russell got Ohio State into gear, with Loving hitting three three-pointers in the first half on his way to 11 points.
Russell paced the way for the Buckeyes with 12 points in the first 20 minutes, including a four-point play with 6:10 left in the half. Not only was Russell doing work in the scoring column for Ohio State, but he was also able to grab seven rebounds and recorded all five of Ohio State's assists in the first half. The efforts of Russell and Loving helped the Buckeyes open up a 28-15 lead with four minutes to go in the first half, but a 13-3 Maryland run tightened up the score before the score settled at 34-26 at halftime.
The Terrapins finished the first half shooting 9-27 from the field, including 3-12 from behind the arc. Highly touted Maryland freshman Melo Trimble had a quiet first half, only hitting one free throw. Maryland was led by nine points from Dez Wells and seven points off the bench from Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz. Ohio State was able to hold the edge on the board, outrebounding Maryland 24-17 through 20 minutes.
Ohio State came out of the halftime break with a lot more urgency than they did to start the first half, using a 7-0 run over a 51 second span nearly four minutes into the first half to open up a 48-35 lead on the Terrapins. After struggling during Big Ten so far from behind the arc, during that run Sam Thompson was able to hit a three-pointer, forcing Mark Turgeon to call a timeout.
After building a double-digit lead early in the second half, Ohio State was able to not let Maryland to creep back into the game. With under eight minutes left in the second half, D'Angelo Russell already had secured a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. As if fans had thought they've seen it all from Russell, then came a Russell bank three-pointer to extend the Ohio State lead to 16 points.
For as bad as Maryland was from the field in the first half, they were just as bad in the second half. At one point over halfway through the half, the Terrapins were shooting just 6-21 from the field. While Dez Wells was able to reach double-figures for the 11th time in the last 15 games for Maryland, they really missed the offensive production of Melo Trimble. With five minutes to go in the half Trimble was 0-8 from the field and all of his three points had come from the free throw line.
3 things we learned:
1) Ohio State should burn the first 10 minutes of each game in a fire. Sure the Buckeyes didn't fall behind by double-digits as they have in games recently, but they missed out on a chance to put Maryland away early. Maryland didn't pick up their first field goal until about 7:30 into the game, but at that point Ohio State only held a 8-5 lead. When the Buckeyes went to the under-12 television timeout they were only shooting 3-13 from the field, while Maryland was only able to bury one of their first eight shots.
When Marc Loving entered the game and hit two three-pointers in his first few minutes on the floor, the Buckeyes were able to open up a bit of a lead. But it still begs the questions as to why it takes Ohio State so long to get going? Thad Matta has tinkered with the lineups, and inserted Kam Williams into the game before he did Loving, but the results of recent games have held true. The Buckeyes can't afford to let this thread continue, especially with how tight the Big Ten is packed. Ohio State has already lost a couple games they should've won because of slow starts and as the season moves along a couple of those games could be the difference in whether the Buckeyes earn a NCAA Tournament bid or not.
2) With each game Jae'Sean Tate's confidence is growing. This marks the third game in a row the freshman from Pickerington has started the game for the Buckeyes and he is improving his play with each start. Tate scored five points in the first half for the Buckeyes and while a number of shots weren't falling early, he was doing his best to find some offense to support Russell and Loving. The second half saw even more offensive production from Tate, who followed up his 20-point performance against Indiana with another strong offensive game.
While Tate's going to give the Buckeyes great energy and hustle, what he is doing best for the Buckeyes is getting inside and creating some contact. The key for Tate is when he draws the contact and earns a foul that sends him to the line is hitting those free throws. While his free throw percentage coming into the game leaves something to be desired, Tate has been better lately from the charity stripe. In the loss to Indiana a couple weeks ago Tate went 6-9, against Iowa a week later he went 7-10, and tonight he had decent numbers from the foul line. If Tate can continue that upward trend, he could be a key asset in conference play for the Buckeyes, especially with how physical play is in the Big Ten.
3) Ohio State desperately needs the Marc Loving that played tonight. Expectations were high when Marc Loving came to Columbus last year, but so far the hype hasn't matched the performance most nights. Tonight saw Loving sit on the bench a little longer than usual, with Kam Williams entering the game before Loving did. That might have lit a fire under Loving, with the sophomore scoring 11 points in the first half, and following that up with a couple more three-pointers early in the second half. Loving even showed a little grit on the inside, throwing down a nice put-back dunk to extend Ohio State's lead to 18 with under seven minutes to go.
Coming into the night Loving was shooting 50% from three-point range and tonight's performance will only boost those numbers. If Loving can consistently be a threat behind the arc for the Buckeyes it could really bode well for Ohio State's chances of making a run in March. This could take some of the pressure off of D'Angelo Russell while putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Imagine if Ohio State could count on either Shannon Scott or Russell driving the lane and kicking it out to find an open Loving to hit from three. Buckeye fans have already seen some of the highlight reel passes Russell could make and if Marc Loving can continue to shoot with confidence, Russell could add to that reel.