If there ever was proof that Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith are crucial to Maryland basketball’s success, it would be Sunday’s bout against Ohio State. When the guard-center combination is firing, the Terps have the potential to beat anyone. But when the duo comes out flat, Maryland’s chances of winning quickly shrink. In their second meeting of the season, the Buckeyes focused on the two — keeping Cowan and Smith quiet enough to send the Terps to a road loss, 79-72.
“Having [Smith and Cowan] fall down, we all try to have their back continue to play and execute our game plan,” said Aaron Wiggins “We came up short but did the best we could.”
Maryland’s top two talents in Cowan and Smith combined for an inefficient 18 points in a loss in Columbus. Hopeful to win their tenth straight and sweep the season series, the Terps fell victim to the Buckeyes lockdown perimeter defense and lights out shooting.
“We battled, never gave up but they were the better team,” said Head Coach Mark Turgeon.
The last time the two teams met, Maryland was on fire from beyond the arc and out shot Ohio State at home. In Columbus, it was the Buckeyes’ turn. Of their first six made field goals, five came from the three. It was be their bread and butter as CJ Young, Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad all drained at least two long-range shots in the first half.
“They shot incredibly well,” said Eric Ayala. “The guards got a lot of good looks.”
At the end of the period, Ohio State, shooting at a 37% clip from three on the season, shot 50% from deep. Meanwhile, Cowan led the charge for Maryland. In response to the Buckeyes defensive focus, Cowan took on the role of a distributor, dishing five assists. But he had a hard time scoring and getting to the rim.
“[Cowan] was doing everything right early, trying to take what the defense was giving to him,” said Turgeon.
Thanks to its offensive fluidity, Maryland was able to stay close to the opposition. But it quickly collapsed in the final minutes of the half. The Buckeyes closed out on a 10-3 run, led by Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. in the final three minutes. Muhammad drained two threes in this stretch, finishing with 22 points for the game, while largely neutralizing Cowan’s scoring on the other end of the floor. The run gave Ohio State a seven-point lead and much needed momentum going into the second half.
Following the break, Maryland once again fell victim to the Buckeyes’ shooting, allowing an early 7-0 run. The Terps attempted to regroup, and slowly chipped away at the Buckeyes lead. A 10-6 run capped off by a Aaron Wiggins three pointer closed the gap to just three points.
Down 55-58 with six minutes to go, the Terps looked poised to take back control — but to no avail. Despite the momentum on their side, the Terps failed to execute down the strecth, too often settling for bad shots. Further compounding their struggles was a series of controversial refereeing calls — including one that sent Cowan home early. Upset with a missed call, the senior kicked the air in frustration and earned a technical foul, ending his night with three minutes left to play. After Cowan fouled out, Maryland’s offensive woes seemed even more crippling without its primary ball handler and closer.
Eric Ayala and Wiggins, combining for 36 points, performed well in the absence of Cowan, but the services of the senior talent were sorely missed.
“We were teetering on getting blown out and [Wiggins and Ayala] stepped up for us,” said Turgeon.
Wiggins kept the game manageable, scoring 18 from behind the arc, but his shooting effort was not enough to get over the deficit. A group of role players, and a stifled Smith never looked like getting back into the game, as the Terps saw their winning streak snapped at nine.