Maryland basketball has escaped its toughest stretch of the season. In a five-game span that included four road contests and four meetings with ranked foes, the No. 24 Terps emerged 3-2. On Tuesday, they knocked off No. 21 Iowa for their first road win over a ranked team in 11 years (which is a long, long time).
Now it’s time for the closing stretch of the regular season, which on paper looks much more favorable. Three of Maryland’s last four games are at home, and only one is against a ranked opponent. The Terps are currently in position to land a top-four seed and double bye in the Big Ten tournament, but with Wisconsin just half a game back, they don’t have much breathing room.
First up is a rematch with Ohio State, whom the Terps easily handled on the road last month. Game time is set for 2 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN.
What happened last time
Maryland rode perhaps its best shooting performance of the season to a 75-61 win in Columbus on Jan. 18. The Terps took a 45-38 lead into halftime, and after Ohio State opened the second period on a 6-0 run to trim the margin to one, Maryland scored 10 straight to open up a double-digit lead. The Buckeyes wouldn’t get closer than six points after that, and the Terps finished strong to win by 14.
Five Maryland players scored in double figures, led by Anthony Cowan Jr.’s 20. Bruno Fernando was dominant, recording 13 points and 15 rebounds. The Terps shot 58 percent as a team and knocked down 11 of 17 three-pointers, more than good enough to make up for shortcomings in some other areas. Maryland committed 19 turnovers and allowed 10 Ohio State offensive rebounds, which made the game closer than it could have been.
What’s happened since
The win was Maryland’s sixth in a row and moved the Terps to 7-1 in the Big Ten. The schedule ramped up after that, as Maryland went 4-4 in a stretch that included five ranked opponents and six games away from College Park. The Terps slipped from third in the league to as low as fifth, and they currently sit in fourth, which would merit a double bye in the conference tournament.
Ohio State’s loss to Maryland was its fourth straight to start 2018, and the streak would extend to five. But after falling to 2-5 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes have bounced back and currently sit 7-8. That mark has them tied for seventh in the league with Minnesota. The Buckeyes are still a likely NCAA Tournament team; Justin has them as a No. 9 seed, and most bracketologists hold them in a similar standing.
Three things to watch
1. Can Ohio State handle Bruno Fernando inside? The sophomore center has had many a night like he enjoyed in Columbus, when he tossed up 13 and 15. He’s now posted 18 double-doubles this season, most recently pulling one out in the final seconds against Iowa. Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson wasn’t a match for Fernando, and if he slips into foul trouble, the Buckeyes’ frontcourt depth can easily be exploited.
2. Does Aaron Wiggins continue his surge? The freshman wing has scored 35 points in his last three outings, making 9 of 18 three-point attempts. He’s now shooting 42.6 percent from long range, and his scoring average is up to 8.7 points per game for the year. He had 11 points and went 3-of-4 on threes in the first meeting against Ohio State, and Maryland would happily take that production again.
3. How does Maryland start? The Terps have come out sluggish offensively in four straight games, although it’s only proven costly once. If they can buck that trend and jump out to an early lead against an Ohio State team averaging just 54.5 points in its last four games, they could put the Buckeyes in a big hole. At least in theory, the afternoon Xfinity Center crowd should give Maryland somewhat of a boost; it remains to be seen what the Terps do with it.
We’ve updated this story with a few quotes from Maryland’s media availability Friday afternoon. Catch Mark Turgeon’s full press conference here.
Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell, on Ohio State:
“They’re not a team that we can just sleep on. We beat them there—they’re gonna come back here with a vengeance. They’re a dangerous team.”
Freshman forward Ricky Lindo, on where Maryland has grown since the first meeting:
“I think we all just trust each other more. The chemistry’s flowing a lot ... we love playing with each other, we love playing for each other, and I think that’s translated to the court.”
Head coach Mark Turgeon, on returning to College Park:
“We’re excited about being home; we’ve been pretty good at home since the new year started. But we’re not taking anything for granted. A couple years ago, we were 20-2, and then we leaked a little bit of oil, and then we came home for three out of four and then lost two in a row. So I talked about that with the guys yesterday—just because we’re at home, it’s not gonna be easy.”
KenPom: Maryland 68, Ohio State 61
Me: Maryland 73, Ohio State 63