While it wasn’t as smooth as many would have expected, No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball picked up its ninth victory in a row Tuesday night, defeating Northwestern, 76-67.
The Terps led wire-to-wire, never trailing for a single second on the night. But they were never really able to pull away until late, as the Wildcats made a ton of tough shots in the second half to stay within striking distance.
But a win is a win, and Maryland is racking those up left and right as the conference slate approaches the final stretch with just a handful of matchups remaining before the postseason. And with a two-game lead in the standings, a Big Ten championship could be just around the corner.
The Terps still need to hold steady going forward, and their next test won’t be an easy one They’re heading to Columbus to face Ohio State for the second time this season, though the first meeting was in College Park, a 67-55 Terps victory.
And while the Buckeyes hit a skid during January, they’ve climbed out of the unranked pool to check in at No. 25 in the latest AP poll.
“We always talk about how defense travels,” Darryl Morsell said. “So that’s what we’re going to focus on — just control what we can control. Coach Turgeon will have a gameplan on how to guard them. We’re familiar with [them]. I still remember our game against them, it wasn’t that long ago. ... We’ll be prepared.”
Sunday’s tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on CBS.
Here is the preview from the first time the two teams met.
What happened last time
Back on Jan. 7, the then-No. 12 Terps and then-No. 11 Buckeyes squared off at Xfinity Center. And while it was Turgeon’s team’s first opportunity against a ranked team, it was Ohio State’s fifth — Villanova, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia.
As was more commonplace back then, Maryland got off to a terrible start. It took five minutes and 58 seconds for it to make its first field goal — a Jalen Smith triple — and the Buckeyes got out to an early 8-0 lead.
But once the Terps took a 15-13 lead with 7:55 left in the first half, they never looked back, taking a six-point advantage into halftime and never again trailing for the remainder of the night. Once Ohio State cut the deficit to 31-29 with 18:18 to go, Maryland immediately responded with a 10-2 run before ultimately winning, 67-55.
Anthony Cowan Jr. did Anthony Cowan Jr. things, scoring 20 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from beyond the arc and 10-of-12 at the charity stripe. But he didn’t get his usual level of help, as only two other Terps — Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell — finished in double-figures, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively.
On the other side, the Wesson brothers — Kaleb and Andre — dominated, combining for 29 points on a combined 11-of-24 shooting — 3-of-7 from downtown — with 14 rebounds and four steals. Freshman guard D.J. Carton (more on him later) also played well, scoring 14 points including a pair of three-pointers.
What’s happened since
Maryland went on the road following its win over Ohio State and hit its low-point of the season. It lost to Iowa in a blowout defeat on Jan. 10, and then it lost a heartbreaker at Wisconsin a few days later.
Then the Terps returned home and haven’t lost since. Starting with the win over Purdue on Jan. 18, they’ve won nine straight games. And while there have been close calls, the average margin of victory over that span — 7.9 points — is still a healthy figure.
And Turgeon’s squad has made some important strides during the stretch. It picked up its first road win of the season on Jan. 21 — and then won three more in a row for good measure, including a dramatic victory over Michigan State in East Lansing on College Gameday.
“We’ve grown a ton,” Eric Ayala said. “[The first Ohio State game] feels like a lifetime ago. But I think we’ve grown a lot. We played a lot of basketball, we got a lot more basketball to go. So we’re kind of just taking it slow and just want to keep getting better.”
The loss to Maryland was the third in a row for Ohio State, and then it lost three of its next four to continue the slide. After winning 11 of 12 to start the year, the Buckeyes lost six of seven to bring their record to 12-7.
But Chris Holtmann’s team found its footing late in January. Beginning with a road win over Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, on Jan. 26, Ohio State got back to its winning ways, emerging victorious in three straight and five of six to climb back into the AP Top 25 poll released Monday, though it just lost to Iowa on Thursday night.
And that was all despite losing Carton; it was announced on Jan. 31 that the freshman was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team to focus on his mental health. He’s since returned to classes in Columbus, but he hasn’t returned to the court as of yet.
Three things to watch
1. Can Jalen Smith continue his interior domination? Last time out against Northwestern, Smith could not be stopped. He scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and added a career-high 19 boards, getting it done on both ends of the court with ease.
But against Ohio State the first time out, Smith was bottled up by Kaleb Wesson, scoring just 11 points with seven boards, well below his season averages in both. While the Terps were able to make do without a huge contribution from their sophomore big back in early January, they may need Smith to have a stronger performance this time around.
2. How do the Buckeyes operate without D.J. Carton? Carton had 14 points the first time the two teams met, but he hasn’t seen the court since the game against Northwestern on Jan. 26. Since his departure, the Buckeyes have shortened their rotation — they run only eight-deep on most game nights regardless of situation. His absence means Maryland has fewer scorers to focus on, but it’ll still be a challenge to key in on the remaining options.
“He’s terrific. He’s their second-leading scorer in league play,” Turgeon said of Carton. “But they’re still a really good team, they’re a great defensive team. They play well at home, they shoot the ball better at home. ... No matter who they put on the floor, they put really good players out there. So we got to be prepared.”
3. Does Maryland continue to take care of the ball? Against the Wildcats, the Terps had their best passing performance of the season. They had 17 assists to just five turnovers — the latter tying a season-low — while putting together a season-best assist-to-turnover ratio. When Maryland has won this season, it has largely taken care of the ball — though it did have 16 giveaways against the Buckeyes the first time around.
“It’s just constant, working on it everyday and talking about it all the time,” Turgeon said of limiting turnovers. “We’ve really kind of settled into the way we’re playing now and I think guys know where guys are supposed to be. ... I just think we’ve been more consistent with our approach towards offense the last six weeks.
Vegas: Ohio State -3, O/U 132.5 (as of Sunday morning)
ESPN BPI: Maryland 36.0% chance to win
KenPom: Ohio State 67, Maryland 65 (Maryland 40% chance to win)
Me: Ohio State 73, Maryland 69