Stingy defense, hot shooting lift Maryland basketball past Ohio State

The athleticism of Aaron Wiggins allows him to do almost anything around the rim with ease — notably putback dunks. With three minute’s remaining in Maryland basketball’s contest against Ohio State, he showed his prowess. A porous Ohio State zone defense, coupled with natural bounce from the Maryland guard proved to be the ideal combination for Wiggins to take off and slam a missed Eric Ayala three home. The dunk put Maryland up by nine, effectively ending the game and leading to an eruption of the Xfinity Center crowd. 

A three-point shower in the first half, along with arguably the Terps best defensive showing all year silenced their Big Ten rival. In the end, the Terps won comfortably, beating the Buckeyes 67-55, stretching their home win streak to 10 games. 

“I’m encouraged because I don’t think we’re playing great yet,” said head Coach Mark Turgeon. “We beat a really good team who I think can win the national championship.”

14 games into the season, the narrative of slow starts for Maryland basketball is all-too familiar. Tuesday’s contest was no different. For five minutes, the Terps were unable to score, allowing the Buckeyes to open an 8-0 advantage. But a three-pointer by Jalen Smith with 13:49 remaining energized the bench. More buckets followed. Six consecutive points from Eric Ayala, along with corner three by Serrell Smith Jr. gave Maryland its first lead of the game with 9:57 remaining in the first half. It wouldn’t look back.

The Terps were sloppy early, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half. But the Buckeyes were no different, giving up possession six times in the final ten minutes of the period. For that crucial stretch, Maryland shot the ball expertly, draining seven of their first eleven tries in the first half.

Ohio State, despite being one of the best shooting teams in the nation, converted a meager 29% from the field, and 23% from deep. While the turnovers were a factor in their lack of offensive rhythm, the stifling Maryland defense forced bad shots.

“Our defense was outstanding, Smith was outstanding,” said Turgeon. “We guarded the three-point line well.” 

Smith was assigned the task of deterring the powerful Kaleb Wesson. The center delivered. After forcing Wesson into foul trouble early, Smith’s presence made nothing easy for the Ohio State star. In the end, Smith forced an uncharacteristic performance from Wesson. The Buckeyes leading scorer mustered 15 points at an inefficient 38% clip — and made only one of four from behind the arc.

Maryland closed out the first half with threes on three consecutive possessions by Smith, Anthony Cowan and Donta Scott. Scott only scored seven points, but provided valuable minutes on the defensive end of the court.

“Donta always play hard,” said guard Darryl Morsell. “Donta gonna do everything that nobody else wants to do … he fought” 

Still, the Maryland lead was only six at the half.

The Terps and Buckeyes went back and forth for almost the entirety of the second half. While Ohio State shot an improved 33%, every shot came with a timely Maryland response — allowing the Terps’ lead to grow.

The Terps attempted fewer three pointers, as the away side heightened their off ball pressure. Maryland adjusted accordingly, and shot 50%, mostly on inside looks. For the majority of the half, the Terps settled into an offensive rhythm, and stretched their lead in front of a raucous Xfinity crowd.

Ultimately, the Terps brought pressure when necessary, and the Buckeyes were slow to respond. The full 40 minutes of defensive intensity, coupled with consistent shooting, allowed Maryland to finish their three game home stand with a dominant Big Ten performance.  

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