With a little under nine minutes left against No. 11 Ohio State, junior guard Darryl Morsell rose up and snagged the ball in mid-air as Buckeye D.J. Carton tried to complete an inbounds pass under his own basket.
He lobbed the ball off to Aaron Wiggins, who was all alone on the other end. The sophomore dribbled into the paint and slammed down a tomahawk dunk with his right hand to give No. 12 Maryland men's basketball a 12-point lead.
The Terps were dominant on the defensive end all night to come away with their first victory over a ranked opponent this season, taking down the Buckeyes, 67-55.
“We won because our defense was just outstanding,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “I’m encouraged because I don’t think we’re playing great yet. But we beat a really, really good team that I think can win a national championship if things go the right way for them in March.”
Coming into Tuesday’s matchup, Ohio State was the best three-point shooting team in the Big Ten, hitting triples at a 39 percent clip, while Maryland was one of the worst at 30.7 percent.
But the tables flipped when the two teams faced at Xfinity Center, with the Terps holding the Buckeyes to 19 percent (5-of-27) from deep, while making 44 percent (8-of-18) of their own attempts. Maryland only allowed Ohio State to make 31 percent of its shots from the floor, while shooting at a 46 percent mark itself.
“One of our emphases was just being tough in this game,” Jalen Smith said. “Making sure that we always battling and not getting knocked down so easily and just always putting up that fight.”
While it ended in a double-digit victory, the Terps once again suffered a slow start. Ohio State went on an 8-0 run from the opening tip, with Maryland unable to score a field goal until its ninth possession of the game.
Near the 10-minute mark of the first half, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell drove into the paint for a layup and Chol Marial rose up behind him, swatting the ball against the backboard. Eric Ayala grabbed the rebound and took off towards the other end. He found Serrel Smith Jr. in the corner, who drained a three-pointer to give Maryland a 12-11 lead — its first advantage of the night — with around ten minutes to go in the half.
The two teams traded back and forth in a sloppy matter of affairs for a few minutes, but then then the Terps got hot from deep. With about four minutes until the break, Smith took a pass from Ayala at the top of the key and drained a three-pointer. Maryland made threes on its next two possessions, coming by way of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Donta Scott to take a 28-20 lead.
Maryland has struggled to shoot the deep ball all season, and it started the night missing all three of its shots from long range, but the team found its groove in the latter part of the first half. The Terps entered halftime up 28-22 with seven three-pointers made, its most in a half all season, on 63.6 percent shooting.
Ohio State was able to shorten its deficit coming out of halftime, but Maryland didn’t let its opponent stay within reach for long.
With a little over 13 minutes left in the game, Carton took off on a fast break and drove into the paint, eager to put his team back in it. But Ayala quickly rushed back on defense and swarmed him as he went up for the shot, forcing yet another Ohio State miss. The defensive stop was in the midst of a streak where the Buckeyes missed 12 straight field goals.
“We can throw a lot of different stuff at opposing teams,” Morsell said. “I feel like just our changing the defenses, confusing the opposing teams is effective. And we’re just playing hard, everybody communicating. So it’s good.”
Cowan then took the ball up the court and immediately pulled up for a three-pointer from the top left-key, sinking it with ease to put Maryland up 41-31 — its biggest lead yet. The senior guard’s play was key in the victory, and he finished with a team-high 20 points, six rebounds and two assists.
While Maryland was never able to fully make this one a blowout, it maintained a double-digit lead for most of the rest of the top-15 contest.
With just about a minute left, the Terps fully put the game away for good. Cowan threw a lob in to the paint for Smith, who scored on a two-handed jam to put the team up 60-50 en route to the statement victory.
Three things to know
1. Jalen Smith had it going from beyond the arc. Believe it or not, Smith has been one of the Terps’ most consistent three-point shooters over the past month or so. After draining two three-pointers against Indiana, Smith made both of his attempts from long range Tuesday night. The 6’10 sophomore is 9-of-15 from deep since Dec. 4, shooting at a 60 percent clip.
“That’s huge. It really stretches the floor. It really helps the guards out, especially in ball screens,” Cowan said. “Everybody knows Stix can shoot. And he’s building that confidence up and we know it’s going in when it goes up. So I’m happy for him, now he just needs to keep going.”
2. It looks as if the starting lineup is set. Turgeon played with his starting lineup quite a bit at the beginning of the season, but it looks like he's finally found some consistency. The combination of Cowan, Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Scott and Smith has started the last four contests, three of which ended in victories.
While this might change from point to point to have Ayala in the mix depending on the opponent, it looks like this will be the group until Chol Marial reaches a point where he can start.
3. Turnovers had an impact — especially early. Both Maryland and Ohio State — minus its two early three-pointers — started off slowly due to ball security. Two of the Terps’ first six possessions ended in turnovers, while the other four resulted in missed shots.
By halftime, the two Big Ten teams committed a total of 19 combined turnovers. The second half was a bit better as Maryland turned the ball over four times, and Ohio State gave the ball away six times.