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Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 16 Ohio State preview

The Terps will head to Columbus to try to snap their two-game skid.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Time is running out for Maryland men’s basketball to make a late-season push, but it will have its chance to get back on track with an important road matchup against the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes coming up.

“It’s another great opportunity for us to go on the road and get a win against a quality team on national TV,” interim head coach Danny Manning said about the matchup. “We’ve proven that we can go out and compete with teams. We’re 2-2 against ranked teams, and two of the losses have been by a combined three or four points... we have to make sure we stay focused, we gotta compete tip to horn.”

The Terps have dropped their last two games, which has solidified their spot in the Big Ten basement’s in the meantime. Maryland’s 3-8 conference record has it only ahead of Minnesota and Nebraska heading into the matchup.

A meeting with the Buckeyes will come tomorrow and then it will have to prepare for games against Iowa and Purdue, with the Hawkeyes’ game being the one game in College Park out of the next three for Maryland.

Sunday’s game is slated to start at 1 p.m. and it will air on CBS. Let’s take a look at the Buckeyes ahead of the matchup.

No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-5, 6-3 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 21-10 (12-8 Big Ten)

Head coach Chris Holtmann is in his fifth season coaching the Buckeyes and this will be the first out of two times that these teams will meet this season. Holtmann won Big Ten Coach of the Year back in 2018, only to follow that up with being named a Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist after helping Ohio State to a 21-win season during the 2020-21 campaign. Holtmann has led his team to a 13-5 overall record this year. His program’s 6-3 conference record has the Buckeyes firmly in the top-half of the conference, behind only four other teams. Ohio State will always provide a challenge, especially on its home court where it is 9-0 this season.

Players to know

E.J. Liddell, junior forward, 6-foot-7, No. 32 — Maryland will be tasked with finding some improvement when it comes to stopping an opponent’s top player, and this time around that will be E.J. Liddell. Liddell is an incredibly talented big man that also isn’t afraid to let it fly from deep. He’s averaging a team-high 19.7 points per game on 51.5% shooting as well as leading the team in blocks with 48. The next closest Buckeye has just 17 blocks. Liddell is also a frequent three-point shooter and he has taken 68 threes this season in 18 starts, having hit nearly 40% of his tries. He’s a force to be reckoned with no matter how you look at it.

Malaki Branham, freshman guard, 6-foot-5, No. 22 — There are only two Buckeyes that average double-figures in scoring and Malaki Branham is the second with an average of 10.6 points per game. He’s only a freshman, but Holtmann clearly has a lot of trust in him considering he’s out there for 26.3 minutes per game. Branham is an efficient shooter that can fill up the stat sheet. He chips in with 3.7 rebounds per game and has even connected on 33-of-40 (82.5%) free throw attempts this season. The young guard will look to bring his efficiency to the court come Sunday.

Justin Ahrens, senior forward, 6-foot-6, No. 10 — He may have taken a step back in scoring, but Ahrens will always be the Buckeyes’ best threat from three-point range. Ahrens has taken a team-high 96 threes this season under Holtmann. He boasts an average of just 6.4 points per game, but the ability for him to knock down shots will always be a present when trying to defend him. Ahrens might not be hitting a good portion of his threes this season, but is confidence never wavers from that area. He’s only taken three field goal attempts this season that have not been three-pointers.

Strength

Playing at home. Home-court advantage is something that still holds true in Columbus. The Buckeyes are undefeated at home, having taken down nine straight opponents that have entered Value City Arena. They are the only team left in the Big Ten that has failed to lose a game at home this season. At home, Ohio State has beaten strong teams like Duke, Wisconsin and Northwestern. It’ll be a tough task for Maryland to pull off the upset on the road.

Weakness

Turnover margin. Ohio State may average upwards of 75 points per game, but its offense has the tendency to turn the ball over at times. It averages 11.7 turnovers per game, one turnover more than what it forces its opponents into on a nightly basis. Maryland will have to turn the Buckeyes over to put its offense out of rhythm if it hopes to make some noise in enemy territory.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland overcome a first-time opponent? Most of the Terps’ success has stemmed from rematches within Big Ten program. All of the three teams that Maryland has taken down in conference play — Northwestern, Illinois and Rutgers — were beaten the second time the teams faced each other in the regular season. The Terps are a perfect 3-0 in rematches, but 0-8 in taking on Big Ten teams the first time they meet. Maryland needs to rattle off some wins against the teams in the upper echelon of the Big Ten and soon, or else then its NCAA Tournament hopes will really be gone with the wind.

2. Will Eric Ayala break out of his shooting slump? Senior guard Eric Ayala was on fire shooting the ball. That was before his two games against Indiana and No. 13 Michigan State. In the last two, Ayala is a combined 6-for-27 from the floor, having made just 3-of-17 tries from three. The confidence is clearly still there for the Terps’ top scorer, but to beat the Big Ten’s best, he’ll need to start connecting on more shots if Maryland wants a chance in this one.

“Definitely, yeah definitely. I can’t spill the beans but definitely,” Ayala said on if he’s working on anything to get back on track with shooting the ball. “Just not settling for long shots as much, just going with the flow of the game, you know trying to mix up my shots instead of shooting a lot of threes and stuff.”

3. Can Qudus Wahab and Julian Reese contain Liddell? Maryland’s big men will have another challenge ahead of them this Sunday when they have to take on Liddell. Liddell averages nearly 20 points per game and Maryland has had recent troubles stopping its opposing big men, most notably giving up 35 combined points to Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson. Liddell is just another typical elite big in the Big Ten. The Terps will have to find a way to limit what he does on both ends of the floor.

“E.J. Liddell is an All-American, Zed Key is a beast down in the post. So they’ve got a lot of quality players across the board in that lineup so we got to make sure we just come out and we play with a great deal of intensity and attention to detail,” Manning said.