Entering Sunday’s matchup on a nine game winning streak, No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball’s looked to make it 10 in a row against Ohio State. However, the Buckeyes knocked down ten threes and made 21 consecutive free throws during the game, downing the Terps 79-72.
Ohio State hit key shots when it mattered and held the tandem of guard Anthony Cowan Jr and center Jalen Smith to a mere 18 points. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the tightly contested defeat.
1. Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala returning to three-point shooting form could be huge for Maryland:
With Smith and Cowan struggling, the Terps needed some of their other weapons to step up. The sophomore tandem of Wiggins and Ayala did just that.
Despite the loss, the duo combined for 36 points: including 22 of Maryland’s 39 points in the second half. Even more importantly, Wiggins and Ayala combined to knock down nine shots from behind the arc, while also shooting well above their season average from long range.
Soon, entering the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, opposing defenses are going to continue to key in on Cowan and “Stix.” If Wiggins and Ayala are able to consistently knock down perimeter jump shots, Maryland is much more versatile and tougher to guard. With opposing defenses collapsing in on Cowan’s quick drive ability, Wiggins and Ayala’s tendency to knock down threes off of kick outs will be pivotal. If both players are able to build on their strong performance Sunday, it will allow Maryland to play more inside out with Jalen Smith kicking out to open shooters if he is double teamed on the block.
“I was just out there doing what I could to help my team win,” Wiggins said. “Shots were falling so I continued to shoot them and after I saw a couple go in, I started to be more aggressive.”
2. Jalen Smith needs to stay disciplined, but also continue to be aggressive when attacking the basket:
In each of the last nine games, Jalen Smith made his presence felt down low — impacting the game on both ends of the floor with nine consecutive double doubles. However, today was a different story, as Smith struggled with Kaleb Wesson.
With less than seven minutes remaining in the first half, “Stix” picked up two fouls in 40 seconds. Therefore, head coach Mark Turgeon was forced to keep him on the bench for almost five minutes. With Smith out of the game, the Buckeyes took advantage, outscoring Maryland 11-5. Despite Chol Marial and Ricky Lindo doing their best to fill in, neither could equal “Stix’s” impact on both ends of the floor. Still, when Smith was in the game, Kaleb Wesson imposed his will down low on many possessions.
For the first time in several weeks, Smith seemed physically outmatched for a majority of the game. The Terps are at their best when “Stix” plays with untapped aggressiveness, attacking the basket and asserting his will on both ends of the floor. With four regular season games remaining, “Stix” needs to return back to the same elite level he played at over the last month.
3. Head Coach Mark Turgeon extends his rotation:
For the first time since Jan. 10, freshman guard Hakim Hart played five minutes for the Terps — an opportunity for head coach Mark Turgeon to get a look at the freshman in game action. The early action for Hart came as a surprise, with Serrel Smith establishing himself as the third guard off the bench in the last month.
Chol Marial also played 11 minutes, and Ricky Lindo Jr. played one. One of the biggest storylines surrounding Maryland as of late has been their six-man rotation and whether that could last entering into March.
Despite not scoring a point, Marial played some of his best minutes of the season, battling down low for rebounds. However, he still looked a step slow on the defensive end of the floor, picking up three personal fouls. For Marial to play more consistent minutes down the stretch, he’ll need to be more disciplined defensively. He will also need to continue working on his positioning down low and to use his 7-foot-2 frame to his advantage.
With four games remaining, Turgeon is expected to continue fiddling with his rotation looking to find some time relief for the Terps six rotation players. Beginning with Minnesota on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see which bench players Turgeon decides to allocate the minutes to after Sunday’s performance.