It has now been a full week since what I have deemed the, “winner in West Lafayette,” aka Jaden Ivey’s buzzer beater over the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-5, 6-3), giving No. 4 Purdue (20-3, 9-3) an 81-78 win. The Buckeyes trailed 52-32 with 14:39 remaining in the game and outscored Purdue 46-29 over the last 14 minutes, tying the game with 24 seconds to go after a Kyle Young steal led to an E.J. Liddell three-pointer. Then, Ivey does what he does best and ripped out Ohio State fans’ hearts for the second season in a row.
Nevertheless, a valiant effort from the Buckeyes to fight back in the contest and make it far more interesting than it deserved to be. Unfortunately, that added momentum from that second half came to a screeching halt as their next game on Thursday against Iowa was postponed. The Iowa team plane had mechanical issues on Wednesday, and then weather in Columbus prevented the Hawkeyes from flying in Thursday morning.
Thankfully, it was not another lengthy COVID pause, but even taking a week off in February is not ideal in the slightest — especially coming off their best offensive half of the season against Purdue, even though it was a loss. Another issue that the Buckeyes have to possibly deal with now is playing 11 games in 29 days. They will have to rely on depth and managing workload so they aren’t dealing with dead legs heading into the postseason.
The Buckeyes currently sit in fifth place in the conference, and 2.5 games back of the first place Illinois Fighting Illini. Ohio State does have a game left against Illinois. If the Buckeyes can string some wins together, a Big Ten championship is not out of the question. However, one game at a time, especially in this conference.
As we enter February, every game is officially huge. Maybe not completely, but it feels as if every game is huge. Even though the Buckeyes are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament right now, they are still battling for a possible Big Ten championship and also a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The top four teams get the double-bye, and as mentioned above, the Buckeyes are in fifth place and just a half-game out of fourth place. The added rest in March could be much needed. It would help for the Buckeyes to get Justice Sueing and Seth Towns back from injury, but at this point, their status is unknown.
Now the Buckeyes head into the heart of their schedule, as they take on Maryland (11-11, 3-8) at home at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Maryland is led by point guard Eric Ayala, who was also an Ohio State target when he was in high school. The senior guard is averaging 15.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 35 percent from three-point range. Ayala is on the floor a lot, as he plays 35 minutes a game for the Terrapins. Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell is another scoring threat for the Terrapins, averaging 12.9 points per game. His numbers are down from his time at Rhode Island, however, as he averaged 18.8 and 14.7 points per game the last two seasons with the Rams, respectively.
Donta Scott is the big man down low for Maryland, as he averages 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab is averaging 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, but like Russell has been inconsistent with his new team.
There were high expectations for this Maryland team, but a slow start and some inconsistent play led to their head coach Mark Turgeon stepping down, with former Wake Forest head coach and Kansas player Danny Manning stepping into the interim head coach role. The Terrapins have not been all bad, as they have beaten Florida, Illinois and Rutgers this season. Of their 11 losses, seven have been by single digits. If some of those go the other way, it could be a different season for Maryland.
Ohio State is led by E.J. Liddell, who is still carving out his case as one of the top players in the country. Liddell is averaging 19.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The only other Buckeye averaging in double figures is Malaki Branham at 10.7 points per game.
Maryland does nothing special, as they are 11th in the conference in scoring offense and defense, and are 11th in the standings.
This is one of those games that you just have to win and move on. Maryland is a talented team who has just had a bad season, but on a good day can still beat anyone in the conference. However, for the Buckeyes, they need to get this one at home to keep pace with the top of the conference, especially after the Michigan State loss to Rutgers on Saturday.
Maryland only has seven players that play over 12 minutes a game, so they rely on most of their scoring from their top four guys and their starters. Eric Ayala, Fatts Russell, Donta Scott and Hakim Hart all play over 30 minutes.
This is one of those games that I really don’t expect the Buckeyes to pull that far away at all, but should lead for the majority of the game. Maryland is not a good three-point shooting team, as they hit 31 percent from deep — a mark that is good for 13th in the conference. If the Buckeyes can get ahead early, it will be hard for Maryland to shoot their way back into it. Look for big defensive games from Zed Key, Kyle Young, Liddell and probably some minutes for Joey Brunk since Maryland does a lot of their offensive work in the paint.
The Buckeyes have done a good job in conference play of not stringing losses together. They have followed all three losses with a win. I think this streak will continue and the Buckeyes get back on track today with a win.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 85.0%
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET