Oh sweet victory, how we’ve missed you.
It had been more than a month since the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team brought home a winner, but the nightmare nine-game losing streak at last came to an end Sunday when the Buckeyes earned a W against Illinois at home.
Now, in the penultimate game of the regular season and final outing at home, the Buckeyes face the No. 21 Maryland Terrapins — the team against whom the panic really began.
The Buckeyes are sitting at 12-17 on the season, having lost 14 of their last 16 (lo, remember that time when Ohio State was 10-3?).
They’re 13th in the Big Ten standings with a 4-14 conference record ahead of only Minnesota. They cannot mathematically even make it to the No. 12-spot to overtake Nebraska (how embarrassing).
But let’s turn a new leaf and hope the Buckeyes have, too, just in time for the end of the season, because Ohio State most recently had a decisive, 72-60 victory over Illinois.
While Illinois jumped out to a five-point lead after tipoff, it didn’t take long for Ohio State to catch up and take a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game. The Buckeyes led 41-29 at the break and things were feeling comfortable — that is, until the 6:53 mark in the second half when the Illini pulled within one and it felt like hope of a win would once again slip through Ohio State’s fingers.
However, all hope was not lost and strong play from senior forward Justice Sueing and freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh pushed Ohio State back ahead for a much-needed victory (including a poster dunk from Sensabaugh). It was just the sixth time that Ohio State, once one of the top offenses in the country, scored more than 70 points this calendar year.
But we’ll take it at this point. Freshman guard Bruce Thornton led Ohio State in scoring with 20 points on the afternoon. Suing added his first double-double of the season with 14 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Sensabaugh added 14 points of his own in the effort.
In total, Ohio State shot 54% from the field, though just 21% from three-point range, making just three, three-pointers all day. Defensively, the Buckeyes did hold Illinois to 36% shooting which is impressive since Illinois has shot 45% from the field on the year. Ohio State also had a decisive advantage on the boards, hauling in 40 rebounds to Illinois’ 28. The squad also drained 9-of-10 free throw attempts.
On the flip side, the Buckeyes did have 15 turnovers to 11 for the Illini.
Was the performance positive overall? Yes. Enough to carry the Buckeyes through against the second-best team in the Big Ten? That’s a much more loaded question.
Maryland looks to be a much different team than the one the Buckeyes encountered in early January. The Terps are sitting at 20-9 overall, including an 11-7 mark in conference play, and are just two games back from Purdue. Most recently, Maryland emerged with a 75-59 win over then-No. 21 Northwestern (who in this twisted world is itself a tournament team) in the Terps’ final home game of the season.
In that matchup, which was neck-and-neck through halftime, Maryland shot 54% from the field and 64% from three-point range (connecting on 14-of-22 attempts from beyond the arc). The Terps were evenly matched on rebounds, with both teams hauling in 28 boards and neither team turned it over much (just seven apiece), nor made it to the free-throw line (just 15 total attempts).
However, the biggest difference came with assists, because sharing is caring: Maryland had 17 assists on the day despite being 13th in the Big Ten standings in the category. Now is probably the time to mention Ohio State is 14th.
While all five starters for the Terps hit in double figures, senior guard Jahmir Young led his squad in scoring with 18 points on the day. Sophomore forward Julian Reese added a double-double with a dozen points and 10 rebounds. Young also leads the Terps in scoring on the season, averaging 16 points per game.
Young also led his squad in scoring the last time the Terps faced the Buckeyes on January 8 in College Park, when he had a season-high 30 points. While Sensabaugh had 22 points and Sueing 21, it wasn’t enough in the 80-73 loss that was just a three-point margin with 2:40 remaining in the second half. Ohio State shot 44% from the field to Maryland’s 46%. Both teams shot well from beyond the arc. And both were matched well on turnovers.
The differences, of course, were that (1) Ohio State pulled in just 26 turnovers to Maryland’s 40 and (2) committed 28 fouls to Maryland’s 18. The Terps ended up going 26-for-33 from the charity stripe while Ohio State was 16-of-19.
Head coach Kevin Willard leads the Terps from the bench. Willard has put together an impressive run in his first season as head coach in College Park after spending 12 seasons at Seton Hall. He’s firmly positioned Maryland to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing it in 2022.
At this point, there’s little left to salvage from this rough season. Ohio State gets Maryland, the second team in the Big Ten standings, before wrapping the regular season on the road in East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans who are ninth in the standings.
It doesn’t help that Maryland has a lot more to play for tonight than Ohio State. While overtaking Purdue in the standings would be challenging (including requiring losses from the Boilermakers), it’s not impossible.
But the bigger issue is that the Terps are in a four-way tie for second-place in the conference standings. A slip up could drop the squad precipitously in ways that would impact their tournament bracket. Plus, there are three teams tied at three-games back. In other words, the Terps won’t be resting up for the postseason during their road game tonight.
That being said, it will be one last home game for the season. Tonight will also be senior day, recognizing Sueing and guards Sean McNeil and Isaac Likekele. There’s always something special about that and a reason for even a 12-17 to give it their best shot.
On the court, the Buckeyes aren’t counted out, though. For some reason the computers still love Ohio State at home. Just goes to show the limit of AI, I suppose. The Buckeyes are the No. 65 team in the nation according to Kenpom while Maryland has risen to No. 17. That’s a pretty good ranking for a team with a losing record that has only won three games in two months. Even more bizarre is that the Buckeyes and Terps are neck-and-neck in tonight’s game prediction.
Plus, there’s not a lot that Maryland is great at. The Terps are middle of the road in the conference in most statistical categories like scoring, shooting, three-pointers, rebounding and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Terps tend to have a defensive edge, allowing under 63 points per game. Even with a mediocre offense, their scoring margin is still a +8.4.
Adding injury to insult, the Buckeyes will officially lose junior forward Zed Key, who is having season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday after injuring the shoulder, initially, against Purdue. He last saw time on the court against Iowa February 16.
This season has certainly been a disappointment for the Buckeyes, but winning one last game at home before what’s sure to be a chaotic offseason would do a lot to assuage the mediocrity.
ESPN BPI: Maryland 50.6%
Time: 7 p.m. ET