Maryland men’s basketball fell once again on the road, dropping its penultimate game of the 2022-23 regular season at Ohio State, 73-62.
Here are a few takeaways from the game.
Another slow start on the road.
Every Maryland road game seems to start the same way. The Terps limp out of the gates, allowing their opposition to storm out to an early lead. From there, it’s an uphill battle, their only hope being a similar run of their own.
That pattern did not change Wednesday. Ohio State went on a 12-0 run ahead of the first media timeout, quickly leading 14-4. Maryland turned the ball over five times in the opening 8:20 and seven times in the first half.
According to ESPN’s Win Probability Index, Wednesday’s game was essentially a toss-up prior to tipoff with Maryland slightly favored. Before five minutes had elapsed, the tool gave Ohio State a 75.5% chance of emerging victorious.
“We came out and got a good bucket, but just did some things early that make you scratch your head. This was disappointing. I thought we had a pretty good practice yesterday, but we just looked kinda lethargic today which just hasn’t been something this team does,” head coach Kevin Willard said.
As it currently stands, Wednesday’s loss is not by any means catastrophic for Maryland from a resume perspective. Ohio State is playing better than its 5-14 conference record indicates and was hot off a commanding win over Illinois, meaning that a road game in Columbus is still a quad 1 opportunity. Maryland doesn’t really have any bad losses to its name, at least not in terms of losses to bad opponents (there were a few concerning margins of defeat). But, it’s not at all outrageous to think that the Terps could get punished come tournament time for not showing their ability to win away from College Park.
After Sunday’s regular-season finale at Penn State, there will be no more true road games, only neutral-site ones. The Terps have been marginally better there — with a very small sample size — going 2-1 including blowout wins over Saint Louis and Miami and a three-point defeat to Tennessee.
But it should be noted that a) that close loss to Tennessee was an ugly, ugly game in which Maryland scored only 17 points in the first half and needed a near-miraculous comeback in the second to make it close, and b) those games came in November and December. The main point being: it’s hard to point to results from months ago and use them to project future results. Maryland hasn’t proven itself capable of putting together consistent showings away from XFINITY Center, and that needs to change if it’s going to string together postseason wins.
“We gotta play better when the crowd’s — you know the crowd’s affected us,” Willard said. “For guys that are kinda older, crowds have affected us a little bit. When teams are going on runs, we’re rushing on offense.”
Julian Reese was Maryland’s best player.
Despite the team’s struggles overall, sophomore forward Julian Reese continued his ascent into the upper echelon of Big Ten forwards Wednesday, posting a stat line of 17 points and 12 rebounds to go along with three blocks.
Ohio State was missing Zed Key, their usual top forward; he was recently ruled out for the season with the same shoulder injury that kept him out of the teams’ first matchup on Jan. 8. Reese took advantage, making six of his eight field goal attempts. He also made five of his eight free-throw attempts — not an eye-popping percentage but better than his season average of 51%, which may be the biggest hole in his game he is yet to fix. Previously, one would’ve said that Reese’s most noticeable flaws were his foul troubles, but he seems to have remedied that to an extent.
Willard has said on multiple occasions in recent weeks that he believes Reese is as good as any big man in the conference. That’s high praise for someone in the same league as All-American-caliber players like Zach Edey, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Hunter Dickinson, but Reese’s play since healing from his shoulder injury has given that statement more credibility.
In his last 15 games, Reese is averaging 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game compared to 10 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in the 15 beforehand. That is especially impressive when you take into account the fact that the competition has only gotten stiffer of late. He has recorded a double-double in his last four games, too.
The pressure is back on Maryland.
Maryland has just one game left on its schedule, and if it wants to have a chance at getting a top-four seed and double bye in the Big Ten Tournament, it’s going to need a win at Penn State — it hasn’t gotten a win at the Bryce Jordan Center since 2015.
The Terps entered Wednesday controlling their own destiny: win out and lock up the No. 2 seed in the conference. With the first of two games in the books as a loss, their fate is a bit more unclear. A win, and Maryland could still start its conference tournament campaign on Friday. A loss, and it could fall as far as ninth.
Before the season, most would’ve said that being a virtual lock to qualify for the NCAA Tournament before March began would’ve constituted a successful first season for Willard. Perhaps this team is suffering the consequences of its own success, but given where it stood after beating Northwestern last Sunday, finishing in the middle of the league standings would feel like a bit of a letdown.