On Tuesday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes (13-10, 3-7) suffered their 10th loss of the season, falling to the No. 17 Maryland Terrapins, 77-71. Despite impressive efforts from junior Jae’Sean Tate and senior Marc Loving, the Buckeyes lost their 11th game in the last 12 against ranked opponents.
After Maryland raced out to an early lead, the Buckeye defense closed the gap, forcing five turnovers in the first eight minutes. After turning over junior guard Melo Trimble, OSU forward Tate threaded the needle to a streaking Kam Williams who laid it up to give OSU their first lead of the game at 16-15.
While Tate got the assist on that bucket, he was the Buckeyes’ best weapon against Maryland, especially early on. With a spinning bunny from the block at the 9:29 mark, Tate scored 11 of the team’s first 21 points.
With just over three minutes remaining in first half, and the score tied at 31, Terp junior guard Jared Nickens hit a three-pointer and was fouled in the act by Loving. After a timeout, Nickens completed the rare four-point play.
As the half ran down, the teams exchanged buckets, and Maryland ended the first 20 minutes on a 7-0 run to take a 42-36 lead into the locker room. In the first half, Trimble, Maryland’s best player, had more turnovers (3) than points (2), but freshman forward Justin Jackson picked up the slack with 13 points and four rebounds.
For the Buckeyes, Tate had 13 points at the break, while Thompson had five points and five rebounds, and sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle chipped in with five points and five assists.
Freshman Micah Potter began the season as a member of the Buckeyes’ starting lineup, and it was only an injury that allowed junior Trevor Thompson to take over the starting spot. However, after being one of OSU’s most consistent players, Thompson went scoreless and fouled out on Saturday against Iowa, so head coach Thad Matta decided to shake up the starting rotation and reinsert Potter. Thompson was the first player off the bench.
The Buckeyes opened the second half giving up an easy layup, and Matta called an immediate timeout for the sole purpose of lighting up his team for the full 75 seconds.
After a mostly status quo first nine minutes of the half, a 7-0 Buckeye run, capped by a Tate steal that led to a transition C.J. Jackson corner-three, cut the Terp lead to 58-55 with 10:38 remaining in regulation.
On the verge of his eighth double-double of the season, Thompson had to come out of the game with an apparent knee injury after missing a layup on offense, and his man, junior forward Michal Cekovksy, raced down the floor for a fast break dunk. Thompson did not return, and finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
After the timeout, the Buckeyes got back-to-back baskets, including Loving’s fourth three-pointer of the game, to cut the Maryland lead to 64-63. Loving finished the game with 18 points. Tate ended the game with 20, and Williams added 10.
With just under three minutes remaining, the Buckeyes went small with neither Thompson or Potter on the floor. After Loving was turned away in the lane, the Buckeyes were bailed out by Maryland’s Anthony Cowan who committed a foul with 2 seconds left on the shot clock, leading to Jackson hitting two free-throws and bringing the score to 70-69 in favor of the Terps. However, Maryland never gave up the lead from there.
The Buckeyes will be back in action this Saturday in Ann Arbor, taking on the Wolverines at 6:00 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Three things we learned:
1) Jea’Sean Tate still has something to play for. Many Buckeye fans have questioned the effort of this year’s team, but it is clear that Jea’Sean Tate has no intention of allowing his heart to be called into question.
He is the unquestioned leader of the team statistically; 14 points per game (1st on the team), 6.3 rebounds per game (2nd on the team), 23 steals (2nd on the team); but he is also routinely the first player back on defense, or leading the break on offense. Despite being an undersized power forward at 6’4, Tate has proven himself to be a force in the paint and shows no qualms about giving up his body for a loose ball.
Whether it is because he is still hoping to turn the season around, or if he is playing to enhance his pro potential, Tate is the most consistent bright spot on the team. If he had played on one of Matta’s more star-led teams, it is easy to imagine Tate’s motor being the engine that drove OSU to a Big Ten or even National Championship.
2) There’s no reason for Trevor Thompson to not be in the starting lineup. Look, I know that he had a horrendous game against Iowa on Saturday, but besides Tate, Trevor Thompson has been the best player that the Buckeyes have had since beginning Big Ten play.
Not only is he averaging 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, but he is also the third best free throw shooter on the team at 72.5%. But, statistics aside, most importantly, he has been an active, energetic presence down low. Something that the Buckeyes just don’t have in Micah Potter or elsewhere on the roster.
His propensity to get into foul trouble is obviously always going to be a concern, but other than disciplinary reasons not withstanding, there is no on-court reason for the team’s best big man to not be a part of the starting lineup every game.
3) This Ohio State team can beat (and lose to) any team in the Big Ten. Unless the Buckeyes see marked improvement, this season will most likely end up being the worst in Matta’s 13 years in Columbus. However, many times this year, Ohio State has played well against their best opponents, only to falter down the stretch; see Virginia, UCLA, and now Maryland.
Similarly, the Buckeyes seem to play their worst against lower rated opponents; see Florida Atlantic and UNC Asheville.
Whether that is being short one quality contributor, or not having a leader who is able to drag his teammates to respectability, one thing is for sure, the Buckeyes are almost always going to be in close games. While that fact can lead to a tremendous amount of excitement for a team, more often than not this season, it has led to disappointment for the Buckeyes.
At this point, the only logical option that OSU has to make the NCAA tournament is the long-shot of winning the Big Ten Tournament. However unlikely that may be, at least Buckeye fans can take solace in knowing that their team has a good chance of hanging with whomever they match up against.