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Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 22 Ohio State preview (part two)

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Maryland’s second-to-last home game will be a difficult one.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

It wasn't smooth sledding for Maryland men’s basketball at Indiana on Thursday night, but it will have a chance to redeem itself just three days later in College Park. The Terps will face the No. 22 Ohio State Buckeyes for the second time this season to try to capture their third win in four games.

Maryland is 13-15, capturing just five wins in conference play up to this point in 17 tries, with just three games left on the regular season schedule, including this home meeting with the Buckeyes in the Xfinity Center.

Sunday’s matchup is set to start at 4 p.m. and it will be televised on CBS.

Let’s take a look at what Maryland is up against the second time around.

What happened last time

Maryland didn’t stand much of a chance in Columbus, Ohio, back on Feb. 6. The Terps entered the road game on a two-game losing streak at the time, having dropped a pair of important games to Indiana and then-No. 13 Michigan State.

Ohio State also came into the first matchup between these two teams with a perfect home record, making it even more difficult for the Terps to steal one in enemy territory.

And early on, the game played out completely in Ohio State’s favor. The Buckeyes raced out to a healthy 30-16 advantage over the visitors in the first half, eventually leading by 13 points going into the break. All the Buckeyes needed to do in the second half was to contain Maryland from breaking out and they did just that.

Ohio State outscored Maryland by just two in the final 20 minutes, but it was enough to give the hosts the 82-67 victory. The Buckeyes had six players score at least seven points in the matchup as 6-foot-7 versatile forward E.J. Liddell collected a team-high 23 points off a crisp 9-for-14 clip. Liddell chipped in with 11 rebounds as well, helping the Buckeyes to a slight rebounding advantage.

The most impressive player on the floor for Maryland was Donta Scott. The junior forward easily led the team with 25 points in the loss, which also was a game-high. Graduate guard Fatts Russell inefficiently shot his way to a 5-for-15 shooting clip for 12 points and junior center Qudus Wahab was the third and only other Terp to hit the double-digit point mark with 10.

It just wasn’t a consistent outing from Maryland, especially on the defensive end. Ohio State finished upwards of 50% shooting as a team and it went 42.3% from deep.

“We’ve gotta make more adjustments throughout the course of the ballgame,” interim head coach Danny Manning said about what needs to change the second time around. “They started making shots from the perimeter and we didn’t find certain guys, and their post guys got really comfortable as well. So we’ve gotta make sure that we’re giving them different looks defensively and try to disrupt their rhythm.”

What’s happened since

Ohio State has climbed up the Big Ten standings and sits in fourth place out of the 14 conference teams.

Since facing the Terps in the first week of February, head coach Chris Holtmann’s team has won four of its past six games. Even though the Buckeyes lost on the road to Rutgers in the game after Maryland’s initial defeat, it claimed victory over Michigan and Minnesota. Both of those wins were in the double-digit range with the Minnesota drubbing being that of a 25-point margin of victory.

And once Ohio State’s two-game winning streak was snapped on Feb. 19 against a newly-ranked Iowa, it found a way to bounce back yet again.

An overtime win over slumping Indiana was surely nice from Holtmann’s perspective, but Ohio State’s last game was a real head-turner. The Buckeyes marched into Champaign, Illinois and sought to upset No. 15 Illinois in a Big Ten showdown. It was Ohio State that confidently ripped off the win, beating the Fighting Illini by three points after leading for plenty of the game in the second half.

Make no mistake, Ohio State will be coming into College Park for the second meeting with more than enough momentum.

Then briefly looking at Maryland, its loss to Ohio State was the third defeat of eventually five in a row, before it sealed two straight wins over Nebraska and Penn State. Before those two victories though, the Terps were handed losses by Iowa and then-No. 3. Purdue.

The Terps are most recently coming off a 10-point road loss to Indiana, in which Russell’s 23 points weren't able to outweigh Scott and senior guard Eric Ayala’s combined shooting woes.

Three things to watch

1. Will Ohio State’s Malaki Branham provide some more magic? Without Branham’s stellar performance against Illinois, Ohio State might’ve been coming into Sunday’s game with a loss. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard looked anything other than a rookie, exploding for 31 points on 10-for-14 shooting. He had only eight points in the game against Maryland earlier this season, but Branham has gotten hot. Branham has scored at least 22 points in each of his last three games, missing no more than four shots in each game and going a combined 28-for-40 (70%) over that stretch. Liddell is still the guy to look out for, but with the way Branham is shooting the basketball, it’s worth noting his current hot streak.

“Confidence,” Manning said about what makes Branham unique. “As freshman, as a young player, he’s kind of feeling his way around. And now he’s gotten to the point where he’s hit a confidence level that is extremely high. They run a lot of different sets for him whether it’s a step-up ball screen, whether it’s a double-ball screen action, they let him go create and make decisions... I would say the biggest difference for him is his confidence.”

2. Which Eric Ayala will we see? There are two versions of Maryland’s senior leader on a nightly basis: the game-changing one and the inefficient one. In the win over Penn State, Ayala provided 13 points and 3-for-6 shooting from deep, bolstering Maryland’s second-half effort en route to a six-point win. Then against Indiana, shades of the early-season Ayala came to play. The senior went just 1-for-7 from the field and chipped in with a mere three points in 28 minutes. If Maryland wants a chance to secure a home win this Sunday, Ayala will need to be better.

“That’s just a part of the game,” Manning said about his top players’ recent inconsistencies. “You’re gonna make shots some days, some days you’re not gonna make shots. You still have to find different ways to impact the ballgame.”

3. Will the Terps be able to knock off a ranked team at home again? With only three regular season games remaining before the Big Ten tournament, this will be Maryland’s last chance to get a ranked win in front of its fans in College Park in the 2021-22 season. The Terps’ last home game will be against Minnesota, a team that surely won’t find itself in the top-25 come March 2, when the Terps play it. Maryland has just one ranked win at home this season (No. 17 Illinois), but it has certainly come close to winning others. With missed opportunities in College Park against teams like then-No. 23 Wisconsin and then-No. 13 Michigan State, Maryland will have another shot to beat a ranked opponent in Xfinity Center this Sunday.