With Maryland men’s basketball clinging onto a five-point lead and six minutes remaining in the game, senior guard Eric Ayala missed a three before forward Donta Scott soared in and tipped the ball out to point guard Fatts Russell.
Russell stepped in and drilled one of his six threes to extend Maryland’s lead to eight, exciting a lively crowd that could feel an upset brewing in College Park.
On an afternoon of celebration for the 2002 national championship team and on the heels of another exceptional performance from Russell, Maryland went on to upset No. 22 Ohio State, 75-60, on Sunday in College Park.
Behind a raucous energetic crowd, Maryland got off to a fast start. The Terps jumped out to an early 8-0 lead thanks to threes from Scott and Russell, who reached 2,000 career points with a left wing triple that forced Ohio State to burn an early timeout.
Russell jotted over to a packed student section, putting his hand up to acknowledge the incredible accomplishment.
“I thought the students were outstanding,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “The effort and juice they supported us with and I thought out guys gave them something to cheer for early on in the ball game.”
Maryland honored the 20th anniversary of its 2002 national championship team before and during the game. Former head coach Gary Williams, along with players Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and others were in attendance.
Prior to the game, the team held a chat with former coaches and players where alumni and fans attended and heard the champs discuss the magical 2002 run and special memories they cherish.
Williams also addressed the team before the game and talked about having pride in Maryland and what it means to wear the jersey.
“I got goosebumps listening to Coach Gary,” Ayala said. “That’s a legendary guy.”
During the game in the midst of a first-half timeout, ESPN broadcaster and Maryland alum Scott Van Pelt introduced the team as they took center court to a loud ovation.
While this iteration of Maryland basketball that is below .500 could not be farther away from the national championship team from 20 years ago, the 2021-22 Terps did their best to try to honor the group by playing together and hard.
“Just seeing all the guys walk in there,” Russell said. “... It was just like we went out there and tried not to disappoint them.”
While Maryland held an early advantage, Ohio State countered with a run of its own, outscoring the Terps 11-2 in the next few minutes to take its first lead of the game with just under 13 minutes to go in the first half.
Sunday’s matinee became a defensive battle for much of the first half with both teams struggling to put the ball in the hoop. Ohio State in particular had a rough shooting night, making just one of its first 10 3-point attempts.
The Terps limited the number of shots they took from beyond the arc, making it an emphasis to get downhill and attack the rim. Maryland attempted just three threes through the first 15 minutes of action, connecting on all of them.
It was Eric Ayala, who has been inconsistent since his one-game absence from a wrist injury two weeks ago, who carried the load in the first half. Ayala scored 11 straight in the waning minutes of the first half to give Maryland a five-point advantage with three minutes to go in the opening 20 minutes. He finished with 13 points in the first half.
Maryland’s narrow advantage continued to be just that, trading baskets with a contender in the Big Ten in Ohio State through the end of the first half. At the break, Maryland led 32-28.
The second half ended how the first half started: with Maryland clinging onto a small lead. With Ohio State closing in on Maryland, Hakim Hart finessed his way to the basket, throwing up a shot off the glass with a foul called. Hart converted the three-point play to give Maryland a five-point lead with over 15 minutes to play.
Despite a lost season, Maryland fans and students have shown up for certain games throughout the season. When Maryland has electric atmospheres, it often didn't live up to the hype this season, failing to pull off upsets over highly regarded teams.
On Sunday afternoon, this team and crowd were in sync for much of the game with the crowd staying for a full 40 minutes, as the fans fed off the players while the players fed off the crowd.
Almost halfway through the second half, Xavier Green attempted a 3-pointer that bounced off the iron. Scott leaped in, corralled the rebound off the rim and put it back up, making the layup through contact sending the crowd into a frenzy, who could feel an upset brewing in College Park.
Maryland held onto a single-digit lead through much of the first half with free throws coming into play in the final eight minutes. Both teams had an abundance of fouls called throughout the second half sending both the Terps and Buckeyes to the line often in the final few minutes.
Scott was a high flyer against Ohio State, grabbing nine rebounds and tipping the ball out on numerous occasions to give his team extra possessions. At one point, with Maryland leading by seven, Scott tipped another ball out. It ended up in Ayala’s hand with the shot clock winding down. Ayala stepped back from the left wing, drilling a three to give Maryland its first double-digit lead of the game.
In the final minute of the game, Russell took a shot from the same wing, hitting nothing but net to put an exclamation point on Maryland's best win of the 2021-22 season.
Three things to know
1. Fatts Russell reached 2,000 career points and continued his stellar play. Russell its savoring every moment he has left of college basketball, with just a few games remaining to showcase his talent and dynamic ability on a collegiate stage. That has certainly been on display in recent games for Maryland. Russell is averaging over 20 points per game in his last five games. Sunday was another solid game from the transfer. He finished with a season high 27 points, including his first three of the game that was Russell’s 2,000th career point.
“It’s been a long five years,” Russell said about the accomplishment. “It means a lot. I’ve been through a lot. I’m happy to achieve that milestone for my family, my friends.”
2. Maryland’s defense was huge. It’s hard to know what to expect from Maryland’s defense and hustle on a nightly basis. But against Ohio State in a great environment at the Xfinity Center, the Terps were phenomenal on the defensive end. In the first half, Maryland held Ohio State to just 36% shooting from the field and 18% from three. The Buckeyes' best player E.J. Liddell had just seven first-half points and 11 for the game after scoring 24 the first time these teams met earlier this season.
“Defensively, I really liked our effort, especially guarding the 3-point line,” Manning said. “I thought we were disruptive enough to disrupt their rhythm.”
3. Maryland got little help from its bench. Many of Maryland’s starters played almost the entire game. Whether Manning relies on his bench differs on a nightly basis and often depends on the flow of the game. Recently, Manning has played more bench players because of injuries to starters, notably Eric Ayala. But with Ayala returning to a full load, Manning does not need to play as much of his bench. Julian Reese, Ian Martinez and Xavier Green were the only players who came off the bench for Maryland. The bench combined for 50 minutes and just two points.