COLUMBUS, Ohio — After trailing since 2:49 remained in the first half, No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball managed to bring the deficit within five points with less than four minutes left against No. 25 Ohio State.
Throughout this season, the Terps had made their mark as the comeback kids, overcoming multiple 14-point deficits — including two in the final period of play — to find a way to victory, and they hoped to do the same Sunday afternoon to earn their 10th consecutive win.
But with 3:56 left, Anthony Cowan Jr. slammed his fist on the floor and kicked his feet in frustration once the referees didn’t call Ohio State for a foul on his layup attempt, which brought him crashing to the ground. He was handed a technical as it appeared as if he kicked his defender intentionally, and he had to exit the contest as it was his fifth foul of the game.
With its senior leader — the one who had won so many games with mind-boggling triples in the final minutes — out for the remainder of the contest, Maryland couldn’t mount a comeback, losing 79-72.
“So here’s what happened, okay. Anthony went and shot a layup. Somehow he ends up on the ground, so I don’t think he ended up off by himself, right,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “So no call, we’re a little frustrated.
“I know the angle they showed looks like Anthony’s trying to kick Kaleb — he’s not trying to kick Kaleb. He’s looking right at the referee and saying, ‘Call the foul,’ and he was frustrated. He shouldn’t have done it, he did it. Referee said they had to call it because it looks like intent, kicking at the head.”
Maryland did a solid job defending the Buckeyes from beyond the arc in the two team’s first matchup of the season, holding them to a then-season-low 18.5 percent from deep and five made triples. But the second time around, Ohio State was on fire from deep early, earning 15 of its first 18 points from three-pointers on a 56 percent shooting clip.
The Terps kept themselves in the game offensively though, with a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half. Ohio State earned its biggest lead at 18-14 with 11:45 remaining until halftime thanks to a 7-0 run in less than a minute.
But after a timeout, Eric Ayala fired right back with a triple of his own to bring it back within one and Maryland locked down on defense, holding the Buckeyes without a field goal for nearly five minutes.
The Buckeyes missed four consecutive shots from the floor during the stretch, with the Maryland defense also forcing them into several turnovers.
After an Ohio State travel violation, Aaron Wiggins received a pass on the left top of the arc, faked out his defender and took off towards the paint. The sophomore then sent another defender stumbling with a crisp behind-the-back dribble before sinking a floater to put Maryland up 21-19 with 8:08 left in the half.
The impressive score was already Maryland’s ninth point off of an Ohio State turnover, which kept them in it early.
But from there, Maryland went cold. Jalen Smith picked up his second foul with 5:28 left in the half and was forced to watch from the bench for over four minutes. The Terps didn’t score a bucket from the floor for the last 5:06 of the half, with its only six points coming from the free-throw line.
Maryland’s foul woes continued to play a factor with Smith sitting. After Luther Muhammad sunk a triple from the left wing to give Ohio State a 36-31 lead, Chol Marial committed a foul to send Duane Washington Jr. to the line for a bonus chance, which he converted into two points to extend the Terps’ deficit to seven with 48 seconds until the break.
Wiggins had an opportunity to cut into it with an attempt from deep in the final seconds, and though he’s usually given his team momentum with makes late in the first half this season, he missed and the Terps entered halftime down 40-33.
The deficit only got worse at the start of the second half — an area that has become a struggle lately for Maryland despite it being some of their strongest periods of play earlier this season.
Smith missed a layup to start the period and Ohio State quickly got to work, with Kaleb Wesson knocking down a triple from the top of they arc to extend his team’s lead to 10.
After another Terps miss, Andre Wesson pulled off a smooth fadeaway jumper over Donta Scott. On the next Buckeye possession after yet another Maryland miss, CJ Walker stormed down the floor and weaved through several Terps in the paint to bank in a layup and extend the Buckeye lead to 47-33.
“We’ve been there before. We’ve been down, we came back and fought diversity before. And I think we kind of dug ourselves a hole that was too deep to kind of get out this time,” Ayala said. “They made a lot of timely shots. We [were] going back on runs they would make a lot of timely shots. They made a lot of free throws too, a ton of free throws.”
Maryland managed to bring the game within seven points with 13:02 remaining after triples from Ayala and Wiggins, but then went scoreless for 2:18 to make the comeback more of a challenge.
As the game came down to wire, Maryland brought it back to be a close contest thanks to more timely triples from the sophomore guard duo, closing the gap within four points multiple times. But after Cowan fouled out the deficit became insurmountable, leaving the Terps with the taste of defeat for the first time since Jan. 14 against Wisconsin.
“We know that it’s hard to win in the Big Ten. And I mean, having a 9-0 winning streak, you get comfortable winning,” Wiggins said. “But we gotta remember it’s tough to win in this league, it’s tough to win in college basketball. And [Turgeon] always says, ‘Never get too high or never get too low,’ so we gotta just bounce back and be ready for our next game.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s foul trouble was a big problem. Entering play Sunday, the Terps had been pretty disciplined on the year. Through 26 games, nobody picked up five fouls in a game, and their best players never really missed much significant time due to fouls. But that changed against the Buckeyes, as Smith was benched often early for Chol Marial due to getting whistled on multiple occasions. And then the big kicker came with just under four minutes to play, when Cowan was disqualified after a technical foul, his fifth personal of the game.
“Anthony plays 39-40 minutes a game. He’s used to being on the court,” Ayala said. “I didn’t know that he had five fouls when he fouled out at the end. I know for him, he wanted to be out there with us, you know to compete with us to get this win. And we need him.”
2. The Terps were outrebounded, and it made a big difference. Ohio State outrebounded Maryland 36-27 on the afternoon. The big killer came on the offensive boards, as the Buckeyes had 13 compared to the Terps’ six, leading to 14 second-chance points for the home squad.
3. Head coach Mark Turgeon didn’t get key production from his top guys. Wiggins and Ayala looked sharp, with both in sync for one of the only times in conference play, but it didn’t matter without production from Smith and Cowan. While Wiggins had a career-high 20 points and Ayala contributed 16 of his own, Smith and Cowan combined for 18 points on 4-of-12 shooting.