After losing two in a row, Ohio State (17-9, 7-8) was able to come away with a victory in their last time out to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. To further help their cause, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to upset No. 24 Maryland in College Park on Saturday. The game is set to tipoff at 2:00 p.m. EST and is being broadcast on ESPN.
With back-to-back losses against Illinois and Michigan State, it looked as though Ohio State was headed for another spiral similar to one that took place in January. However, with struggling Northwestern in town, the Buckeyes were able to overcome a poor offensive first half to come away with a 63-49 win in Columbus. Kaleb Wesson led all scorers with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting while adding a team-high eight rebounds and four assists.
The biggest story of the game was that Wesson was finally able to stay out of foul trouble, and as a result OSU got their leading scorer back in a position where he could dominate in the paint on both ends without fear of being forced onto the bench. It was the fifth time all season Wesson has cracked the 20-point mark, and the first since Feb. 2, when he dropped 27 in a win over Rutgers.
To no surprise in a first half that finished 24-20 in favor of Ohio State, neither team shot particularly well in the opening 20 minutes. Northwestern was hitting at a paltry 29.2 percent, while the Buckeyes were not much better at 37.5 percent. OSU, however, would get things going in the second period, hitting at a 53 percent clip in the half and outscoring the Wildcats 39-29 over the remainder of the contest. Northwestern finished the game shooting 31.6 percentfrom the floor and 17.2 percent from deep.
No other OSU player finished in double-digits, which is reminiscent of the underlying problem with the team this season — an over-reliance on Kaleb Wesson. It is no secret that as Wesson has gone this season, so too have the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s young core is still very much developing, lacking veteran leadership beyond C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods, both of whom have struggled shooting the ball for stretches this season. At times it has looked as though Luther Muhammad would break out as the team’s second scoring option, but the freshman has been inconsistent and is still likely a year away from taking over a larger role on offense.
Maryland (20-7, 11-5) is in the middle of a very tough stretch, as Ohio State will be only their second home game in the month on February. They are coming off back-to-back road games against ranked opponents, losing to No. 6 Michigan by 13 before coming away with a 66-65 win against Iowa their last time out. Overall, they find themselves at fourth place in the Big Ten, just two games behind the top spot where Michigan and Michigan State are tied at 13-3.
It seems as though every time the Hawkeyes take the floor, they end up in a one-possession game at the end of regulation, and that was no different against the Terrapins. After blowing an 11-point lead over the game’s final four minutes, Maryland forward Bruno Fernando got a put-back to fall with 7.8 seconds remaining to put the Terps up one. Iowa had multiple opportunities to win the game in those final few seconds, as Jordan Bohannon came up short on a three-ball that was rebounded by Isaiah Moss, who also missed his jumper as time expired and Maryland escaped victorious.
The Terrapins were led, as they have been all season, by Anthony Cowan Jr. Cowan had a game-high 17 points to go along with eight assists. The junior guard is averaging a team-high 15.9 points and 4.6 assists this season. The last time Ohio State and Maryland faced off in Columbus, Cowan dropped 20 points and six assists with three steals to led his team to a victory. Cowan has broken the 20-point plateau a whopping seven times so far this season as the junior has continued to build off of what was a monster sophomore campaign for him a year ago.
Cowan hit a career-high five three-pointers in the game against the Hawkeyes as the team hit 12 total shots from deep - the most in a conference game for Maryland as a member of the Big Ten. Fernando added 11 points of his own, including the game winner, while grabbing 11 rebounds to give him his eighth double-double in his last nine games. Totaling an outstanding 17 double-doubles this season, Fernando ranks sixth in program history and fifth in the country this season.
ESPN BPI: 72.2% Maryland
Vegas Line: Maryland -6.5
Maryland has dominated Ohio State since joining the conference, winning five of their last six against the Buckeyes and 5-of-7 overall. The numbers do not get better in College Park, where the Terps are 4-0 against OSU in the regular season and 6-0 this season against Big Ten opponents. The crowd will definitely be a factor in this one, as Maryland is encouraging fans to wear white as part of the school’s annual “White Out” game.
Ohio State needs wins against a few of these ranked opponents in their upcoming schedule to even be considered for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for them, Maryland is a team with strengths that directly target the Buckeyes’ weaknesses. For one, the Terps have held three of their last four opponents under 33 percent shooting, ranking 14th in the nation in field goal percentage defense — not ideal for an Ohio State team known to have long cold stretches shooting the ball. Also, Maryland is ranked third in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten in rebounding — not great for a very undersized OSU.
A determined and inspired Buckeye unit may be able to put together a full-team effort to take down Maryland, but it will take another dominant effort from Kaleb Wesson with additional help from his supporting cast. Ohio State cannot afford to go cold for an entire half like they did in the second period against Michigan State and the first against Northwestern. If they do, the Terrapins will walk away with an easy victory and the Buckeyes will fall even farther away from a NCAA Tournament appearance.