If the goal was to improve upon its 35-point loss the last time the Ohio State men’s basketball team took on Maryland, Sunday’s tight matinee affair at the Schottenstein Center could be considered a sort of victory.
But with the need for signature wins at an all-time high as its NCAA tournament hopes vanish further and further into the rearview mirror, OSU (14-9, 6-4) is in no position to pick up “sort of victories.” It needs all the real victories it can get, one of which it failed to achieve against the No. 8 Terrapins (19-3, 8-2) on Sunday despite a strong effort against one of the nation’s better teams, falling 66-61.
“I’ve never been a big fan of moral victories,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “…You’ve got to find some positives, but we had a chance to win the basketball game.”
A strong beginning to the game quickly devolved into an immense struggle to put the ball in the hoop, as the Buckeyes missed 27 of the final 37 shots they took in the game, shooting 35.1 percent overall. Maryland also struggled from the field, particularly in the second half, shooting 30 percent over the final 20 minutes.
“We just came out with more energy, more effort, we put it all on the line,” OSU sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “Just there at the end we came up short. Also credit to Maryland, they made some big-time shots down the stretch.”
The game began at a torrid offensive pace for both teams, with 31 combined points being scored in the first seven minutes. The Buckeyes did much of their damage from the outside, knocking down each of their first three 3-point attempts and receiving a very quick 10 points from Tate.
But OSU knew well not to put too much stock in the early happenings against the Terrapins. On Jan. 16 in College Park, Maryland, OSU trailed by just two points at the 11:42 mark and went on to lose 100-65. On Sunday, it was OSU holding the slim two-point lead at that time, hoping to hold off a similar Maryland onslaught.
But the Buckeyes went ice cold from that point, hitting just one of their next nine field-goal attempts. Fortunately for the home crowd of 16,592 at the Schottenstein Center, Maryland failed to completely take advantage, only managing to grab a lead as high as six points, which was the 37-31 score at the half.
As has been a recurring theme this season, OSU managed to leave a good deal of points at the free-throw line in the first half, shooting just 6-of-11. Those misses came at an inopportune time for the Buckeyes, as all five happened during OSU’s 1-of-12 shooting stretch to end the half. OSU made just three of its eight free throws during that time.
“I was very upset at halftime, just with the way we closed out the first half,” Matta said.
Tate led OSU with 10 points in the first 20 minutes, though all of them came within the first seven minutes of the game. Freshman guard A.J. Harris and sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop chipped in six points apiece.
It was a more balanced effort in the first half for Maryland, which has five points averaging double-figure scoring this season. Senior forward Jake Layman led all first-half scorers with 12 points, while sophomore guard Melo Trimble had nine points and junior forward Robert Carter Jr. and freshman center Diamond Stone each had eight.
The Buckeyes shot just 34.4 percent from the field in the first half, a number almost unthinkable after their 10-of-20 start. Maryland countered at a 50-percent clip, shooting 15-of-30. The Buckeyes were able to hold on in part due to a 7-4 turnover margin and a 10-6 second-chance point advantage.
Things did not warm up in the second half, with the Buckeyes missing five of their first six shots. That was balanced out by an equally cold 1-of-7 start to the half for Maryland, as OSU was able to cut the deficit to just two points after a 3-pointer by redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams.
Maryland grew the lead back to five points from there, but a split at the free-throw line followed by a put-back dunk by freshman center Daniel Giddens brought the margin back to two points and rose the home crowd to its feet.
A quick Maryland timeout failed to stop the momentum, as a turnover and missed layup gave the Buckeyes a few chances to tie the game or take the lead. OSU was unable to capitalize, however, with a good look at a layup by Tate rolling out.
“I definitely thought that going into the last 10 minutes of the game that we had this one,” Tate said. “But give credit to Maryland as a top-five team.”
But the Terrapins kept missing the shots and the Buckeyes kept battling, eventually grabbing the lead with seven minutes remaining on an and-1 jumper by junior forward Marc Loving, putting the home team up 49-48.
“Give Ohio State a lot of credit, we struggled offensively, they did a nice job defensively, and it kept the game close,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
But a loose ball foul put Maryland back up by a point, giving it a lead it would not relinquish despite a close score throughout the final minutes of the game. Back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon and Trimble were the back-breakers on the OSU upset bid.
“Veteran players make veteran plays,” Matta said. “I thought they did a heck of a job with staying with what they were trying to do, and I thought that was the difference.”
Tate didn’t have an easy time scoring after his hot start, but he was a huge factor for the Buckeyes on defense, finishing with a pair of steals and matching up with some of Maryland’s top scorers. He finished with 16 points on just 6-of-18 shooting. He ended the day as the only OSU player in double figures, though Williams added nine points in the second half and Loving also finished with nine.
“He’s a great player,” Turgeon said about Tate. “He’s got high energy. He’s a great athlete at the 4 which gives us fits.”
Trimble led all scorers with 20 points, followed by Layman’s 16. Layman had a double-double for the Terrapins, adding 10 rebounds.
A big difference in the contest came at the charity stripe, where OSU was 14-of-24 while Maryland was 20-of-23.
“We were inches away, and those are things we’ve got to continue to — we’ve got to close that gap of that inch,” Matta said.
“(Free throws) are the little things, that inch that we have to close down.”
OSU is set to continue its Big Ten grind at Wisconsin on Thursday as the calendar flips to February. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. in Madison.