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Men’s Basketball: Ohio State begins pivotal stretch against No. 24 Maryland

Ohio State sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson (34) looks for an open shot during the second half of the game against Northwestern on Feb. 20. Ohio State won 63-49. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

With March quickly approaching and a tournament bid not yet locked up, every game left on Ohio State’s schedule could mean the difference between going dancing and watching the NCAA Tournament from home.

Going on the road in the Big Ten is no easy task, and with their season in the balance, the Buckeyes will have to be ready to play when they face No. 24 Maryland on the road.

Projected Starters

Ohio State (17-9, 7-8 Big Ten)

G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 12.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.4 apg

G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 9.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.0 apg

G — Musa Jallow — Sophomore, 2.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.3 apg

F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 8.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.6 apg

F — Kaleb Wesson — Sophomore, 14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.8 apg

Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten)

G — Anthony Cowan Jr. — Junior, 15.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.6 asp

G — Eric Ayala — Freshman, 8.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.4 apg

G — Darryl Morsell — Sophomore, 7.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.6 apg

F — Bruno Fernando — Sophomore, 14.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.9 apg

F — Jalen Smith — Freshman, 11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.0 apg

Maryland has struggled since the previous time it faced the Buckeyes. The Terrapins have won four of their past eight, and while they have limited opponents to 62 points per game, the Terrapins have only averaged 62 points per game.

During the previous matchup this season, Ohio State lost to Maryland 75-61 in the midst of its five-game losing streak. The Terrapins shot 64.7 percent from 3-point range while the Buckeyes could only connect on 6-of-26 of their attempts.

Facing the Terrapins for a second time, freshman forward Justin Ahrens said he has seen an improved Maryland team despite the decline in record.

“I feel like they’re a little bit different from the first time we played them,” Ahrens said. “They’re kind of playing really well at the moment, you know teams get like that, they’ll click and they’ll start playing real well, but it’s still the same Maryland team we played a couple weeks ago and we’re ready to lock in on them.”

Maryland is No. 5 in the Big Ten in both points scored and points allowed, presenting a balanced challenge to an Ohio State team that leans more heavily on its defense than scoring.

Two of the top three scorers for the Terrapins, sophomore forward Bruno Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith, are 6-foot-10. Ohio State has been running with starting five that only has two players over 6-foot-5.

Head coach Chris Holtmann understands the challenge his team has ahead of itself.

“You look at them right now and they’re really complete in how they play,” Holtmann said. “I think they’ve held four of their last five opponents under 35 percent from the field and then they’ve been really, really efficient offensively.”

One of the biggest challenges Ohio State faced in its earlier game against Maryland was containing junior guard Anthony Cowan. He scored 20 minutes and recorded three steals, only coming out for two minutes the entire game.

Holtmann said Cowan is having an All-Big Ten season and lauded the junior’s ability on the court.

“Cowan is an upperclassman, and I think he’s one of the elite point guards in the country,” Holtmann said. “It’s going to be an outstanding challenge.”

The Terrapins were able to keep sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson in check in their previous matchup, limiting him to below his season average with 11 points, and only allowing him four shots inside the perimeter.

Wesson has averaged 12.6 points in the nine games since that matchup, and Holtmann understood why Maryland was able to limit Wesson last time.

“Last game when they beat us here, they did a great job both trapping and keeping it out of Kaleb’s hands with their mobility and their size,” Holtmann said.

Ohio State will take on No. 24 Maryland at the XFinity Center at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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