A crucial road win at Illinois put OSU in position to win a Big Ten championship, but the Buckeyes gave away that advantage with a bad loss to Maryland.
College Park, MD – As the proximity to victory progressed from available to remote to embarrassingly-hopeless, there was one consolation in the way Ohio State wilted from the challenge down the stretch at Maryland on Sunday.
It removed all possibility of shenanigans in the post-game handshake line.
The Buckeyes clearly didn’t have the fight for that, given they displayed almost no want-to in any way throughout a collective sleep-walk to a 75-60 beating.
“We just didn’t play well and they played really well,” OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. “We just didn’t have it. We didn’t play near well enough in this kind of environment against this caliber of team.”
Maryland lost by 15 points in Columbus three weeks ago, but it bolted to an 8-0 lead and rarely trailed thereafter.
A 20th-anniversary celebration of the Terps’ 2002 national championship team whetted the crowd’s appetite for an upset, and Ohio State did little to discourage that.
“I didn’t feel like we started with enough toughness or competitiveness,” Holtmann said. “It was all of us.”
All of them, and everything they did.
Leading scorer E.J. Liddell shot 3-for-11 and scored just 11 points, taking nearly half his shots from 3-point range, missing all five tries.
“They did a good job trapping him and fronting him and getting him off his spots,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to work to get a little more involved. He has to bring more effort. We also have to find ways to get him in certain spots.”
Malaki Branham, who’s been making a push for Big Ten freshman of the year, shot 4-of-13 from the field, 1-of-6 from 3-point range and scored only 13.
The Buckeyes tried more triples than two-point shots in a first half they were fortunate to trail by just four, 32-28.
Maryland enjoyed a modest edge of 37-32 on the glass, but a whopping 17-6 edge in second-chance points and an even-wider margin in steals, 8-2.
That speaks to hustle and effort, or lack of it, on the Buckeyes’ part.
If too many games in too many days is the explanation for that – given OSU played and won Thursday at Illinois – there are home dates with Nebraska on Tuesday, Michigan State on Thursday and Michigan on Sunday.
Teams hoping to win a Big Ten championship ignore or fight through the tired legs that come with a compressed late-season schedule. But Ohio State has now looked, and played, on fumes on consecutive weekends and given away any realistic chance at a title with the resultant losses to Iowa at home and Maryland on the road.
Coupled with earlier losses at Indiana – where OSU got blitzed, 20-6, over the last eight minutes – and at Rutgers – where OSU led by eight with three minutes remaining and allowed a game-ending 10-burst, the Buckeyes’ (11-6) four losses to teams in seventh-place or lower have gift-wrapped the Big Ten crown for either Wisconsin (14-4), Purdue (13-5) or Illinois (13-5).
Maryland’s starting backcourt combined for 50 points.
No, that wasn’t Juan Dixon or Steve Blake out there, although those 40-somethings from Maryland’s title team two decades ago could have probably had their way with the Buckeyes, too.
Instead, it was the very mortal Fats Russell with 27 and Eric Ayala with 23 that accounted for two-thirds of their team’s points.
With the NCAA Tournament approaching, it’s becoming clear that unless Branham continues – his Sunday performance exempted – to play far above his freshman status, OSU will have extreme difficulty getting to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond with its very pedestrian point guards.
Jamari Wheeler and Meechie Johnson played a collective 38 minutes against the Terps with one combined assist, zero steals and three turnovers.
Cedric Russell gave OSU a lift off the bench with 12 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting, the last of which cut Maryland’s lead to 57-53 with 6:41 to play.
Russell, however, then fouled at the other end, and after Maryland made one free throw, Branham got bullied for the rebound.
Ayala missed a three, but the Terps rebounded and found Russell, who didn’t miss his triple.
After a Branham turnover, Fats Russell missed and no OSU player chased the long rebound. Ayala tracked it and drained a three, sending the lead to 64-53 at 4:16 to signal the Buckeyes’ doom.
“We obviously have to move forward with a full week ahead of us,” Holtmann said. “We need to get better in a lot of areas. That’s the challenge for us. Get better, and we obviously need a little bit of rest.”
Bruce Hooley hosts the We Tackle Life podcast on iTunes and GooglePlay.