With under six minutes to go, senior guard Eric Ayala banked in an and-one three to cut Maryland men’s basketball’s deficit to 11. It looked like the Terps might have life after a lethargic performance all afternoon.
However, for every punch Maryland threw to fight its way back in the game, No. 16 Ohio State had a counter. On the ensuing possession, the Buckeyes ran high-low action to give National Player of the Year candidate E.J. Liddell a touch in the paint. Liddell gathered and rose up banking in the basket from the low block, plus the foul.
Liddell dominated Maryland with 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Terps fell to Ohio State, 82-67, on Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio.
Maryland moved to 11-12 on the season and under .500 on the year for the first time since the 2013-14 season. If Maryland finishes the season under .500, it would be the first time in 22 years that happened.
“They’re [Ohio State] a very talented basketball team,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “Not taking anything away from them. They played really well at home.”
While Maryland took the early lead with the first basket of the game, Ohio State exploded on a 7-0 run on its home floor. Both teams tried to establish themselves early in the paint, playing through the post and attacking the lane.
In recent outings, the Terps relied on its three-pointers to stay alive, shooting a plethora of long shots instead of attacking the basket, which Manning would prefer they do. However, early on Sunday, it was clear Maryland was attempting to get to the basket instead of settling.
Regardless of the offensive plan Maryland put forward, it didn't have much success. Ohio State went on another run, this time eight straight points before Maryland broke up the streak. The Buckeyes had a double-digit lead six minutes into the contest.
Digging themselves a whole and fighting back has been a common occurrence for Maryland all season. That was no different on Sunday against Ohio State.
The Terps slowly began to dig into the Buckeyes’ lead. Donta Scott stepped into a three on the right wing to cut Maryland’s deficit to six with 12 minutes to go in the first half.
That breath of air from Maryland didn't last long as its offense went back to suffocating. Ohio State went on another 7-0 run. While Maryland’s defense had a difficult time containing the Buckeyes bigs, the Terps offense became stagnant for long stretches, allowing Ohio State to build on its lead.
Scott maintained aggressiveness through the Terps' struggles. He knocked down his second three of the game with under eight minutes to go in the half. He was the only Terp to make a three through the first 15 minutes, with the rest of the team starting the game 0-for-7.
However, the Terps leading scorer Ayala struggled to find the back of the net. Ayala had been in a shooting slump in recent games, and that continued through the early going on Sunday. Ayala started the game 0-for4 from the field and didn't score his first points until four minutes left in the first half, when he stepped into a three, cutting Maryland’s deficit to 10.
It took Liddell — Ohio State’s best player — some time to get going. But once he did, it was near impossible for Maryland to slow him down. At one point in the final few minutes of the first half, Liddell had 10 straight points for Ohio State. He finished the first half with 11 points, the leading scorer in the game.
“I thought he did a really good job of getting deep post positioning and being able to score,” Manning said.
At the break, Ohio State led Maryland 42-29 with Donta Scott as the only player in double figures for the Terps with 10 points. Maryland connected on just 29% of its threes in the opening frame.
The second half started just as the first one ended, with Maryland getting dominated inside by Ohio State’s big man presence in Liddell and forward Zed Key. Maryland tried to fight its way back in the second half, which we’ve seen from the Terps against solid opponents this season, but the Terps never found a rhythm in the Sunday matinee.
Ohio State is the better team and a threat to win the Big Ten and that was evident on Thursday as the Buckeyes out-played, out-toughed and out-hustled Maryland all afternoon.
It wasn’t all bad for Maryland, though. Scott continued to battle and will his team back in the game, even if his teammates didn't come along for the ride. At one point halfway through the second half, Scott had half of Maryland’s total points. He finished the game with 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
“Donta gave us great energy,” Manning said. “We needed the type of energy level from a lot of different other guys on our team but when Donta’s playing like that, it opens up a lot of different things.”
Maryland shot just 4-for-14 from deep in the first half but started to knock down threes in the latter half. The Terps made five of their first 10 attempts from three.But it was too little, too late with Ohio State countering on the other end with ease.
The Buckeyes had 32 points in the paint, compared to Maryland’s 22.
With Ayala’s banked three and Scott shining, Maryland had a chance to make it interesting with a few minutes remaining. However, Liddell had a wide-open look at three on the left wing that hit nothing but net, all but securing Maryland’s 15-point loss.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s lack of assists is a big part of its offensive problem. The Terps display abysmal offensive performances most times they take the floor. A big part of that is because of the team's inability to knock down perimeter shots at a high percentage. But an even bigger part is the team's lack of passing that results in poor assist numbers. Too often Maryland’s offense relies on isolation play with poor spacing that results in bad looks. Maryland has dished out the third-fewest assists in the conference this season. Maryland finished with 13 on Sunday, higher than its season average of 11. Some of that is a result of the Terps failing to make shots, but it’s also a product of bad offense.
2. The Terps’ shooting woes continue and aren't going away. However you want to frame it if there’s one thing that is true about this Maryland basketball team it’s that they are a bad shooting team. That was once again on display against Ohio State. It is no longer a surprise when Maryland shoots a low percentage from three and the field. It is more an anomaly when the Terps have an impressive shooting night as they did a few games ago in a way against Rutgers. Against Ohio State, Maryland picked up its shooting in the second half, but it didn't matter as they already trailed by too much to come back from. The Terps shot 28% from three in the first half and 32% from the field. They finished the game at 34% from three and 39% from the field.
“We have to reward ourselves for the execution,” Manning said. “We had opportunities to score the basketball. We missed some looks from the perimeter, we missed some looks inside the paint.”
3. Maryland is on its third three-game losing streak and is below .500. In a tumultuous and disappointing season, there are going to be many low points. With the loss to Ohio State, Maryland is experiencing another one of those tough stretches. The Terps have lost three straight games for the third time this season and the second time against all Big Ten competition. This is also the first time this season Maryland is below .500, moving to 11-12 with the loss. It was already a lost and transitioning season for the Terps, but that has become even more obvious with just eight games remaining in the regular season.