The Ohio State men’s basketball team has been working without a rhythm for the duration of the season. The Buckeyes had won three of their last four before conference matchups when they headed to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes Saturday. While it was not a hot streak by any measure (especially given the Buckeyes’ two-point loss at home to Northwestern), Ohio State had finally started to show signs of life after starting the Big Ten season 0-4.
Then they faced the Hawkeyes, who dealt Ohio State a jarring blow in the form of a 13-point loss that never seemed even that close. And all with the Big Ten’s leading scorer, shooting guard Peter Jok, on the bench.
“We’ve got to try harder,” said coach Thad Matta after his team’s defeat. “I tried everything in my arsenal. It wasn’t clicking.”
With their NCAA Tournament hopes all but smashed, Ohio State has fallen to 11th place in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes return home to Columbus to face 17th-ranked Maryland in the pair’s first matchup of the conference season. Maryland is on a hot streak of its own, having won their last six games on their way to a first-place tie with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten. The Terps finally cracked the top-20 this week in the AP Poll, with a 19-2 record on the year behind sixth-year head coach Mark Turgeon.
The last time these two teams faced was exactly one year ago, when eighth-ranked Maryland defeated Ohio State by a score of 66-61. Earlier in the 2015-2016 season, the Terrapins had defeated the Buckeyes by 35 points--the worst loss in Matta’s tenure at Ohio State. Matta remains 2-3 overall against Maryland.
While the momentum from wins over Michigan State, Nebraska and Minnesota has all but dried up following the Buckeyes’ loss to Iowa, Ohio State--depending on which team shows up--has a shot at knocking off the surging Terps at home. It is a must-win for the Buckeyes if they have any hope of a tournament-worthy resume.
Numbers to know
Turnovers have remained an issue this season for the Buckeyes. But the bigger issue, perhaps, is points allowed off turnovers. In the first half alone against Iowa, Ohio State committed eight turnovers, with the Hawkeyes capitalizing with 11 points. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, only managed two points off six first-half turnovers for Iowa. While Ohio State cleaned up the turnover issue in the second half, finishing the game with a reasonable 12 turnovers, the disparity in points in the first half killed them early. The Buckeyes have been averaging 13 turnovers per game this season, and cannot afford to give up those extra possessions to a much more efficient Maryland team.
The Terps boast one of the best shooting defenses in the nation, holding opponents under 40 percent from the field on the season. In total, Maryland is keeping its opponents to 65.8 points per game on average to their 75.7 points on offense, which is among the best scoring margins in the NCAA. In conference, the Terps are allowing just 65 points per game, which is good for second in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Ohio State, a team whose offensive woes have been well-documented over the course of the season, will need to establish their shooting early against Maryland.
Maryland is among the worst in the Big Ten in their assist-to-turnover ratio, with a 1.0 on the season--better only than Nebraska (0.9) and Rutgers (0.8). While the Terps are a highly unselfish passing team, averaging 14 assists per game on the season, they do have a tendency to be sloppy with the ball, averaging just as many turnovers per outing. Against Rutgers, the ratio was worse, as Maryland gave up 18 turnovers to the Scarlet Knights to just 15 assists. Still, the most recent trend indicates significant improvement: The Terps recorded 19 assists against Minnesota Saturday to just seven turnovers.
Cast of characters
The seven-foot center was held scoreless for the first time this season when he fouled out in the second half against Iowa--all after scoring a career-high 19-points against Minnesota earlier in the week. Playing just 13 total minutes, Thompson remained in the game against Iowa after committing his third personal foul less than a minute into the second half. In his second matchup against Maryland last year, the Terps were able to work in the paint and Thompson fouled out. So far this season, Thompson has averaged 10.5 points per game on the season, and has been one of the more reliable players on offense for the Buckeyes. He will need to stay out of foul trouble in order to keep Maryland from working inside.
The 6-foot-4 forward led the Buckeyes in scoring against Iowa with 17 points on the night Saturday, hitting 8-of-10 from the field on a day when offense was inconsistent. Like Thompson, Tate got into foul trouble early, limiting his aggressiveness against Iowa. Tate leads the team in scoring, averaging 14 points per game on the season to go along with 6.3 rebounds. Unfortunately, his free throw shooting, sitting at 54.8 percent, is the worst of any of the starters for Ohio State and has put his team in a bind on several occasions thus far this year. Tate cannot afford to give up easy points against such a strong scoring defense.
The six-foot freshman guard--one of three freshmen to start for the Terps--has emerged as the perfect complement to Trimble, taking over as the facilitator for the Maryland offense this season. He has grown more comfortable as the season has worn on, opening up Trimble for shots, creating more effective ball movement and becoming more aggressive in the paint. Given his quickness, he has also played a higher-degree of shutdown defense than his veteran counterpart, but has still managed to contribute double-digit points on offense, shooting 56 percent from the field, to go along with a team-high 3.6 assists per game.
The unquestioned leader of the Maryland squad, the 6-foot-3 junior has been rated as one of the top point guards in the country, even recently being named among the finalists for the Cousy Award honoring the nation’s best point guard. The lone returning starter from last year’s squad, Trimble is averaging 17.1 points per game--good for the sixth-best scorer in the Big Ten--to go along with 3.4 assists. This season, with Cowan running the Terps’ offense, Trimble has been playing off ball, shooting from in the paint and outside the arc, where he averages greater than 36 percent shooting.
How to watch
Game time: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM