Maryland men’s basketball has reeled off five straight wins since conference play reopened, and will take a two-game road winning streak with it to take on Ohio State Friday night.
The No. 19 Terps have gone on an impressive run, winning six straight games dating back to 2018. Maryland allowed a 21-point lead to turn into a deficit with under a minute against Wisconsin, but a triple from Anthony Cowan Jr. put the Terps back ahead for good. Bruno Fernando was in foul trouble for most of that second half, but his prior week’s performance earned him Maryland’s first-ever USBWA National Player of the Week nod.
The Buckeyes have not had as enjoyable a time since Big Ten play resumed, losing three straight in the new year. That includes a respectable loss to Michigan State at home, but also two road losses to Rutgers and Iowa that knocked Ohio State out of the AP rankings.
The Terps are 5-6 against the Buckeyes all-time and 4-2 since Maryland joined the conference in 2014, though Ohio State took last season’s lone matchup. Friday marks the first of two matchups this season, and the game will get underway at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
Ohio State Buckeyes (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten)
2017-18 record: 25-9, 15-3
Head coach Chris Holtmann beat the odds last season, turning what was supposed to be a rebuilding year into a second-place finish in the conference. He also continued a personal string of four straight NCAA Tournaments dating back to his time at Butler. His second season in Columbus could end up rougher, having already matched last season’s conference loss total.
Players to know
Kaleb Wesson, sophomore, forward, 6’9/270, No. 34. With Keita Bates-Diop in the NBA, Wesson has taken over the scoring mantle, upping his rebounding in the process. The sophomore is averaging 16.2 points, up from 10.2 his freshman season, and 6.9 rebounds per game, up from 4.9.
C.J. Jackson, senior, guard, 6’1/175, No. 3. The senior has been pretty steady for the Buckeyes over the last two seasons, starting in 46 of the 50 games he’s played. He’s also been a reliable contributor, averaging 12.9 points (slightly up from 12.6 last season), along with 3.9 assists (same) and 4.3 rebounds (from 3.9) per game.
Luther Muhammad, freshman, guard, 6’3/185, No. 1. The freshman came to Columbus as a known skilled defender. He played alongside Maryland guard Aaron Wiggins in the 2018 Capital Classic after losing to him in the finals of the Iverson Classic Roundball King of the Hill tournament. This season, he’s the Buckeyes’ third-leading scorer and top pickpocket, averaging 9.5 points and 1.1 steals per game.
Defensive efficiency. While Holtmann’s squad hasn’t clicked on all cylinders since the calendar turned, it’s played a stifling brand of defense this season. The Buckeyes are No. 20 in the nation in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, allowing just 92.9 points per 100 possessions. Ohio State is limiting opponents’ effective field-goal percentage to 45 percent, the 18th-best mark, and 29.4 percent from three-point land, which is No. 26 in the country.
Keeping teams off the free-throw line. For as efficient as Ohio State’s defense is, opposing teams are having their most success at the free-throw line. Free throws account for 22.3 percent of its opponents’ points, who are converting 74.8 percent of their free throw attempts. That first mark ranks within the bottom 50 of the nation, and the latter ranks 340th (of 353).
Three things to watch
1. Does Maryland play a full 40 minutes? Last game, the Terps managed to avoid a slow start and built up a lead, but failed to keep the Badgers out of reach. Part of that was due to Wisconsin’s three-point explosion in the second half, but Mark Turgeon will need his young squad to lock in for the full game to leave Columbus with a win.
2. Does Anthony Cowan’s second-half excellence continue? Cowan has had some cold starts himself recently, even during Maryland’s solid start against Wisconsin. However, that hasn’t stopped him from reaching double figures in every game this season, nor from securing the win by scoring 19 of his 21 points against the Badgers in the second half. He’s scored 58 points in the last three second halves for an average of 19.3. Regardless of how his first half looks, it will be worth keeping an eye on Cowan out of the break.
3. How does Maryland’s frontcourt do? After putting a stamp on Maryland’s first-half run, Fernando got in foul trouble early in the second half and was limited the rest of the way. Jalen Smith finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in the outing, but went just 2-of-7 from the field. Meanwhile, Ricky Lindo was a welcome surprise, with a team-high nine rebounds, but no points. Maryland’s at its best with its twin towers on the court and feeding off each other, and they weren’t really able to on Monday. That could continue if they can’t stay out of foul trouble against a Buckeyes team without a single player over 6’9.
KenPom: Ohio State 70, Maryland 68
Me: Maryland 68, Ohio State 64