The No. 25 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team took a blow when the squad fell to the No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes 85-76 in Iowa City Thursday night. However, Chris Holtmann’s team will have to have a short memory, as the Buckeyes have yet another tough test versus a ranked opponent in the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins this afternoon.
Seeking its 10th-straight wins, Maryland is currently eighth in the NET Rankings. Ohio State, meanwhile, is sitting at 21st. Last week, the Buckeyes found themselves ranked in the AP Poll for the first time in four weeks after winning five out of their last six games — including two on the road. However, that momentum was not enough to carry Ohio State through Iowa City. Regardless, the Buckeyes’ performance in February has been a vast improvement over their early-conference play, and those critical wins helped to secure the tenuous NCAA Tournament resume which had once been so strong following non-conference play.
Now, Ohio State looks to close out the month strong as the team returns home to face Maryland in Columbus at 4 p.m. EST in Value City Arena.
After a hardfought stretch, the Buckeyes found themselves sitting at 7-7 in conference play heading into Thursday’s matchup against the Hawkeyes. With a chance to move above .500 for the first time since Dec. 7, when the Buckeyes whollopped Penn State 106-74 in their Big Ten opener, Ohio State couldn’t quite overcome two factors that have plagued the conference all season: (1) Iowa’s big man, who has proven to be the conference’s collective boogeyman and (2) the road.
Those two components meant the Buckeyes’ loss to Iowa, while certainly a disappointment, was not entirely unexpected. After all, the Hawkeyes’ player of the year candidate, junior center Luka Garza, continued to do what he’s done all season as he bulldozed his way to the rim to get 24 total points for Iowa. No one’s been able to stop him so far this year, and the Buckeyes proved no exception. Iowa, meanwhile, maintained a 13-1 record at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
In Thursday’s matchup, freshman forward E.J. Liddell led the Buckeyes in scoring with a career-high 17 points off the bench on 5-of-11 shooting. Liddell added eight rebounds — also a team high. Guard Duane Washington Jr. poured in 15 on 5-of-8 shooting, also off the bench, with nine of the sophomore’s points coming from beyond the arc. Junior forward Kaleb Wesson added 10 points and seven rebounds, while junior point guard C.J. Walker put in 11 and senior forward Andre Wesson added nine. In all, while Ohio State shot an impressive 42% from the field, the Buckeyes ultimately couldn’t stop the Hawkeyes, who shot a collective 56%.
The physicality of Garza extended beyond his shooting to be troublesome for the Buckeyes in other ways. Kaleb Wesson had to sit for several of the crucial concluding minutes with four fouls, even as the Buckeyes were drawing closer. In the end, both Wesson brothers fouled out, with the Buckeyes committing 22 fouls to Iowa’s 16. Oddly, given this seeming imbalance down low, Ohio State still managed to out-rebound Iowa 38-29.
On a positive note for the Buckeyes, Liddell had a breakout game Thursday. The freshman’s 26 minutes against the Hawkeyes was the most he’s played all year, and he capitalized on that opportunity. Offensively, Liddell was the most productive player on the court for the Buckeyes. Defensively, the freshman had two of Ohio State’s three total blocks.
In other outstanding news for Ohio State, freshman point guard D.J. Carton, who had taken a leave of absence to work on his mental health, is returning to school for classes. However, there is currently no timetable for his return to the hardcourt. Carton had been averaging 10.4 points per game on nearly 48% shooting before his departure.
Despite the loss, it’s time for the Buckeyes to move on to their next opponent: Maryland. In the bigger picture, as the top-ranked team in the Big Ten, the collective hopes and dreams of the conference rest on the Terps as the team most likely able to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. However, feeding into that bigger picture doesn’t support Ohio State’s tournament resume, as the Buckeyes could definitely use a signature win to improve their seeding come Selection Sunday.
Maryland currently sits atop the Big Ten with a 12-3 in-conference record, and are riding some serious momentum, having won nine-straight. Currently two games ahead of Penn State (weird, right?) and with just five remaining games in the regular season (though that stretch includes three road games and home games versus Michigan State and Michigan), the Terps look poised to lock up the top seed in the Big Ten Basketball Tournament. In all, Maryland is 22-4 on the season, including an impressive 4-4 on the road (impressive because, as previously stated, no one has done well on the road in the Big Ten this year). Additionally, while not germane to this afternoon’s game, the Terps are 15-0 at home this season.
While the Terps have not won a conference title since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Maryland has still been a strong addition to the conference when it comes to the hardcourt. (While not relevant to this discussion, Rutgers, Maryland’s fellow newcomer to the Big Ten, also hasn’t been too bad this year, with the Scarlet Knights locking up their first winning season since 2006.) The Terps have made the NCAA Tournament in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, and, as previously alluded to, are an all-but lock for a favorable seed in this year’s tourney.
Those recent efforts have been led by Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, who has been at the helm in College Park since the Terps’ inaugural season in the Big Ten (2014-15). Turgeon has amassed an impressive 202-96 overall record, including 93-65 in-conference. Moreover, with the exception of an eighth-place finish in the 2017-18 season, Turgeon’s teams have not finished lower than fifth in the Big Ten regular season.
Ohio State is looking to avoid a sweep against the Terps. The Buckeyes lost their first outing of the year against the Terps Jan. 7. In that matchup, the then 11th-ranked Buckeyes fell to the No. 2 Terps 67-55 in College Park in what was, hitherto, Ohio State’s most anemic offensive performance of the season. Kaleb Wesson had 15 points and nine rebounds in the effort, while Andre Wesson and DJ Carton added 14 apiece. In all, Maryland held Ohio State to just 31% shooting from the field, while the Terps themselves shot nearly 46%. Maryland was also lights out from range, connecting on 44% from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, were etiolated from three-point range, making just 5-of-27 attempts.
Senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who has been a terror for Ohio State in his four seasons in College Park, led the Terps in scoring in the pair’s last outing, pouring in 20 points on the day. Sophomore forward Jalen Smith and junior guard Darryl Morsell added 11 and 10, respectively.
A unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection, Cowan has not disappointed in his final season of eligibility. The senior’s 16.7 points per game are good for fifth in the Big Ten. Cowan has also been prolific from range, connecting on 35% of his three-point attempts. Further, Cowan is averaging 4.5 assists to just 2.1 turnovers per game. And if his scoring prowess wasn’t enough, Cowan has been a veteran leader for Turgeon, having started 125-straight games for the Terps and averaging nearly 35 minutes of play per game this season.
In all, however, the Terps have not boasted a particularly fertile scoring offense, averaging 71.7 points per game on 41.7% shooting. However, what Maryland does have is a stout defense, allowing a mere 38.7% from the field.
After their most recent game, Maryland has had a bit longer than the Buckeyes to rest and recover, not having played since the Terps overcame Northwestern Tuesday in College Park. In that matchup, which Maryland took by a narrower-than-expected 76-67 score, Smith had 22 points, while Cowan added 19. The starters took care of business, with just seven points coming off the bench.
Ohio State 64%
It’s certainly advantageous that the Buckeyes are at home this evening. It’s no secret that road teams in the Big Ten have struggled this season, and Ohio State has been no exception. However, the Buckeyes have also not been an exception to being a dominant team at home. Even with their slide to open January, Ohio State still boasts a 13-2 record at Value City Arena.
Despite the loss Thursday, the Buckeyes seemed to figure out how to get the ball to Liddell, giving the freshman a career high in scoring. Overall, Ohio State needs to continue spreading the ball around. Hitting three-pointers doesn’t hurt either — an area where both Wesson brothers and Washington can contribute.
The Buckeyes have five games remaining in the regular season. Ohio State already has three wins over top-10 teams under its belt, but none since December, and certainly none in conference play. This afternoon’s matchup could be the Buckeyes’ last chance for another top-tier win.