Maryland unable to sustain early offensive momentum in second-straight loss against No. 4 Ohio State

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Trailing 43-32 with 13:15 remaining, Donta Scott stopped his dribble at the top of the key and looked for an open teammate. Scott was then swarmed by two Buckeye defenders and the ball was promptly stripped away by Justin Ahrens. 

Eight seconds later, Ahrens buried a transition three on the feed from CJ Walker, as Ohio State’s (16-4, 10-4 B1G) lead ballooned to 14 and Maryland’s (10-10, 4-9 B1G) offense struggled to find sustained success in its 73-65 loss to the No. 4 Buckeyes.

Prolonged scoring droughts were the story for Maryland once again, as it went the first 7:12 of the second half with just two points and no made field goals. Those scoring lulls have become part of Maryland’s identity throughout this season, and have defined several of its most recent losses.

“We go through those lulls and it’s just who we are,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of the scoring drought. “We’ve got to keep guarding and we didn’t guard during that stretch, the way we needed to guard. We didn’t run back every time.”

However, the first seven minutes of the game was a completely different story as Maryland’s offense was fueled by side-to-side ball movement and selflessness attacking the basket. Junior Aaron Wiggins set the tone by scoring six of Maryland’s first 13 points and finished the game as the team’s leading scorer with 17. 

Wiggins showed off both his vision and craftiness, finding success attacking the basket. That formula proved to be contagious and allowed the Terps to establish an early 13-5 lead in the opening seven minutes.

The Buckeyes opted for a different offensive approach and instead found success converting from the perimeter with quick shots early in the possession. Duane Washington Jr. and Seth Towns drilled three consecutive threes to put Ohio State back on top 14-13— a microcosm of the Buckeyes’ prolific first-half three-point shooting performance.

Answering the Buckeyes’ shooting explosion, the Terps continued penetrating towards the basket and taking advantage of mismatches with smaller defenders. Hakim Hart and Darryl Morsell each converted on the interior, as did Galin Smith off an exquisite feed from Wiggins, which gave Maryland a 23-17 lead with 9:04 left to go in the first half.

Like they did earlier in the period, the Buckeyes quickly answered with a run, once again catalyzed by impressive three-point shooting. Their 16-3 run over a 6:04 stretch featured threes by Washington, Ahrens and Walker, plus a three-point play from Kyle Young. 

While Ohio State’s offense hit its stride, Maryland’s offense looked flustered for the first time all night, missing six of its next seven shots. Four of those six misses came from behind the arc, as the Terps veered away from attacking the basket where they previously found success.

The combination of late closeouts and ineffective offense was the difference in the first half, as the Buckeyes entered the break with a 35-30 lead buoyed by eight three pointers.

“We made mistakes in the first half defensively, the second key of the game was don’t let [Duane Washington Jr.] and [Justin Ahrens] get open looks,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We gave them a lot of open looks in the first half there.”

To start the second half, Maryland missed nine consecutive shots, and its offensive futility allowed Ohio State to slowly build on its lead.  Eerily similar to the scoring drought in the first half, five of those nine misses came from behind the arc, many of which were open looks.

“I’d say [Ohio State] did a better job of making adjustments going into the second half, defending the drive a little bit more” Wiggins said. “We got  good looks in the second half from three, [coach Turgeon] always encourages us to stay confident and shoot when we’re open.”

Ohio State drifted toward their more traditional offensive approach establishing a paint presence instead of attacking the basket early in the second half. Young and Liddell scored the first seven points of the final 20 minutes, as Maryland made a concerted effort to minimize the Buckeyes prolific perimeter shooting. 

Soon after, the Buckeyes showed off their three-point shooting prowess with Ahrens’ aforementioned three— pushing Ohio State’s lead to 14. After struggling mightily to score, Maryland went back to what worked early as Morsell converted back-to-back layups that cut the lead to 10. 

However, the Buckeyes silenced any hopes of a Terps’ comeback, orchestrating an 8-3 run over the ensuing 2:10. Young was effective during that stretch with five points. Walker added a pair of technical free throws after Morsell received a technical foul for slamming his protective face mask on the floor in frustration.

Maryland continued to try and trim away at the lead down the stretch, but Ohio State continued to respond with timely baskets. With 3:58 remaining, a Morsell transition dunk capped off a 6-0 Terps run that brought Maryland within single digits for the first time since the 16:46 mark of the second half.

But as the clock continued to dwindle down the stretch, the Terps couldn’t put together the necessary combination of stops and timely shot making, which sank their comeback hopes. Maryland’s record now sits at .500 for the first time since Jan. 7.

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