Fatts Russell had a plan in mind that didn’t involve putting the ball in anyone else’s hands.
There were less than 90 seconds on the clock and Maryland led convincingly, 72-57. The crowd poured in its final standing ovation, too, but there was plenty of basketball left for Russell to add one more shot.
Amidst the fanfare, Russell casually dribbled to his spot and dealt his go-to move — a side-step shuffle between the legs — to his Buckeye defender before drilling a deep three-pointer adding fuel to an already raucous crowd.
With the bucket, Maryland furthered its double-digit, 75-57, lead with just seconds to go. And if the game wasn’t already out of reach, Russell made sure a win was inevitable.
“I was just shooting, to be honest,” Russell said. “I felt good.”
The talks of winning took a front seat leading up to Maryland’s penultimate home game of its 2022 campaign.
Winning was on the minds of the players and fans hoping to salvage, at least, a .500 season. For the seniors and graduates specifically, a victory on this particular night over a team as talented and competitive as No. 22 Ohio State would’ve given the veterans one last game to really remember.
However, more importantly, winning was the sole focus of the commemoration of the 2002 National Championship team, which appeared, nearly in its entirety, to celebrate its 20th anniversary and wax poetic on its monumental victories two decades ago in front of nostalgic, adoring fans.
“To have the 2002 national championship team back in the building was a lot of fun,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “The energy that we were able to feed off of … I thought the students were outstanding with the effort to support us.”
And as that commemorated team’s memory cast an encouraging shadow on the play on the court, Maryland played with life and inspiration it had never played with in games before. The occasion of the afternoon helped the Terps earn their most coveted win, 75-60, over Ohio State. And Russell and Eric Ayala led the way with 50 combined points.
“We went out there just trying not to disappoint them,” Russell said of the programs lone championship winners, “It was a legendary night.”
With everything on the line for him personally and with the stars present, it’s likely Russell was playing with extra inspiration, putting the team on his back, once again, stretching the lead at nearly every crucial juncture early in the second half.
He rose up and cashed a wide open kick-put three-pointer in front of his bench to shake off the Buckeyes, who were trailing by just one point, 41-40.
He did the same, with more distance from the arc, to double a three point lead midway through the half and added three more triples in the period to gradually put the game to rest — each three more stunning than the one before it. And, his final three-pointer, a step-back that ballooned the lead to a game-high 18 points, offered a fitting end to a game that began with his three-pointer that eclipsed 2,000 career points.
To set the stage for the upset, Ayala also seemed to derive some motivation from the occasion with his first half performance, recapturing his former offensive finesse. After Ohio State battled back from an 8-0 start Maryland had initially created, Ayala found himself taking the lead back and extending it.
Attacking the basket and dodging defenders, Maryland’s typical marksman took to bolstering his stat sheet the hard way.
He took a steal and turned it into two points, called his own number on the following possession and spun to the cup for two more. For good measure, Ayala buried a three-pointer on his third consecutive scoring possession to grant Maryland a multiple possession lead it held for the rest of the half.
Ayala entered the break scoring 11 consecutive points of Maryland’s final 16 of the half — enough to grant Maryland a pivotal, 32-28, lead at halftime.
It wasn’t, however, an individual effort by either of the guards. Many of the Terps’ threes, particularly Russell and Ayala’s threes that built the lead to the games first double-digit spread, were second chance points. A product of the physicality and rebounding that Maryland used to strongarm the Buckeyes for nearly the entire 40 minutes.
“The Big Ten is physical,” Ayala said. “Those kinds of plays win games.”
Donta Scott grabbed the majority of the boards with nine and helped his team notch 17 second chance points. A foundation for a win that was buoyed by the unfaltering energy and motivation the Terps played with to earn their biggest win of the season.