No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball dropped its first game since Jan. 14, falling in Columbus to No. 25 Ohio State, 79-72.
Here’s what stood out from the Terps’ first loss following nine consecutive victories.
1. Jalen Smith’s double-double streak comes to an end
Entering Sunday’s game, Smith was playing the best basketball of his life. He came into Columbus riding a nine-game double-double streak, averaging a hearty 18.9 points and 12.7 rebounds.
But against Ohio State, Smith was bottled up on both ends of the floor. He finished with just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting — missing all three of his three-point attempts — and seven boards, finishing in single-figures in both categories for just the third time this season (Dec. 1 vs Marquette, Nov. 16 vs Oakland).
“It was a physical game — it was tough for Jalen,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “I thought he was getting bumped around pretty good in there. And normally he covers up a lot of mistakes for us, but he wasn’t able to do that today, but we’ll learn from [it] and get better.”
Smith was matched up with Buckeye big Kaleb Wesson, who possesses a rather significant weight advantage over the sophomore. And for the second consecutive game — Smith was held to 11 points and seven boards the first time the teams met — Maryland’s Big Ten Player of the Year candidate couldn’t get going.
Before he checked out at the 11:08 mark of the first half, Smith had just two points on 1-of-2 shooting. It wasn’t as if his stroke was off — he just couldn’t get open against Wesson and his touches were limited as a result. And even when he did get the ball inside later in the game, Smith was met with tough defense from Wesson.
Jalen Smith's miss turns into a layup for the Buckeyes.— Cody Wilcox (@Cody_Wilcox15) February 23, 2020
The Terps fail to stop CJ Walker in transition. pic.twitter.com/KUHJTqGraN
When he came back in with 7:18 remaining, Smith picked up two fouls in less than two minutes, leading Turgeon to put him back on the bench to avoid risking a potential third — that didn’t come until there was 9:19 left in the game.
Smith struggled to get into a rhythm all night long, even before the foul trouble popped up. And if Sunday’s game was any indication, the Terps will only go as far as Smith’s performance takes them.
2. Mark Turgeon shook up the rotation
From when Turgeon took the podium at media day, it seemed as though depth was the biggest difference in this team compared to the squad that took the floor a year ago. In fact, it seemed to be the most depth he had ever had at Maryland.
That tenet has since been abandoned, as the Terps have struggled to go seven-deep at times this season, much less the nine or 10 that was hinted at back on Oct. 15, 2019.
That’s caused Turgeon to switch up lineups, trying to find something, anything, from the back end of the bench on any given night to help give the usual rotation pieces a breather. And against Ohio State, he shook things up .
“Coming in March we’re going to need guys like Ricky and Chol and those guys to help us out, so it was good to see those guys get minutes tonight and see what they can do for us on the road,” Eric Ayala said.
But it was to minimal success.
Freshman center Chol Marial — whose minutes have been very restricted due to health reasons and overall inexperience, which comes into play against Big Ten bigs — played 10 minutes, his most in a single game since his collegiate debut against Bryant on Dec. 29.
But Marial’s minutes were mostly empty, as he didn’t take a single shot; he also didn’t touch the ball on most, if not all, of the offensive possessions while he was on the court. And while he secured a pair of rebounds, Marial did pick up three fouls, struggling to stay up to speed with Wesson and Ohio State’s other bigs — though he did have a few stops here and there.
And freshman guard Hakim Hart, who hadn’t played in a game since Jan. 10 against Iowa, saw five minutes of work — his most since Dec. 4 against Notre Dame.
But Hart’s presence was an immediate detriment to the Terps, as he was a minus-six in just a couple first-half minutes. Ultimately, he finished missing his only field goal of the game — a contested three-pointer — with a pair of personal fouls.
“Hakim is practicing hard, playing well,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t like the shot that he took when he went in there off the dribble handoff— wasn’t very smart — but we’re just trying to figure out our bench — get a little bit more size.”
It wasn’t long ago that Serrel Smith Jr. was dubbed Turgeon’s “seventh guy” in the rotation, but he played just five seconds against Ohio State. And Ricky Lindo Jr., whose minutes have fluctuated all season long, played just 86.
Depth hasn’t necessarily been an issue for Maryland so far this season — the team has found ways to win with a limited rotation of trusted players. But the bench aside from Aaron Wiggins failed to show up Sunday, and it cost the Terps a chance at a victory.
3. The sophomore guards had a resurgent night
Wiggins started to get going a month ago, going 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) from deep across a four-game stretch from Jan. 14 against Wisconsin to Jan. 26 against Indiana. However, he followed that up with an abysmal 7-of-32 (21.9 percent) showing in the six contests since, falling back into the shooting struggles that have plagued his second season.
But the sophomore wing turned the tides against Ohio State, leading Maryland’s offense at every turn while Cowan and Smith struggled to get going.
Wiggins led the team in scoring with 20 points — a career-high — while going 7-of-15 from the field, including a monstrous 6-of-13 effort from deep— with one miss coming in the final seconds of garbage time.
He hit big three after big three, cutting the Terps’ deficit to three points once and four points twice in the final six minutes of play — though Ohio State scored on the next possession all three times.
Aaron Wiggins is pretty good at this basketball thing. pic.twitter.com/shJyPhGKj3— Cody Wilcox (@Cody_Wilcox15) February 23, 2020
“I was just out there doing what I could to help my team win,” Wiggins said. “Shots were falling, so I just continued to shoot them. And after I saw a couple go in, I got a little bit more aggressive. That’s really all it was.”
And Ayala, who was shooting an abysmal 25.6 percent from beyond the arc entering the game, went a solid 3-of-8 from long range, and a late heave with only 20 seconds remaining kept his percentage from dipping into the 30s.
Overall, it’s simply a one-game sample size for the pair that each shot over 40 percent on three-point attempts as freshmen. But if this latest loss comes with the tradeoff that Wiggins and Ayala get it going from deep, that’s a deal that most would likely take.