Basketball Preview: Ohio State Takes On Maryland in Final Road Game of the Regular Season

By Griffin Strom on February 27, 2022 at 7:35 am
Malaki Branham
Joseph Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s final road game of the regular season features an opponent that fell to the Buckeyes by a 15-point margin just three weeks ago.

The 22nd-ranked Buckeyes travel to take on Maryland at 4 p.m. Sunday. Aside from recent wins against Penn State and Nebraska, the Terrapins have lost six of their past eight games, including an 82-67 defeat to Ohio State on Feb. 6.

Maryland (13-15, 5-12 B1G) XFINITY Center 4 p.m. CBS

Sitting just two spots above last place in the conference, the Terps have gone 8-12 since Danny Manning took over for Mark Turgeon eight games into the season. Now, they’ll face a Buckeye team that has notched two straight impressive wins.

Ohio State avenged its January loss to Indiana to start the week and followed that up by upsetting No. 15 Illinois in its own backyard on Thursday. Now the Buckeyes will try to sweep the Terps in College Park, where Maryland is just 2-6 against Big Ten competition this season.

“I think we’re in a good place. It’s coming down to that part of the season where everybody’s on edge, everybody’s trying to put it together, everybody's trying to win games, and when you go on the road and beat a good Illinois team like we did the other night, I think our guys are in a good place,” Ohio State assistant coach Tony Skinn said Saturday. “As long as we stick to being who we are, and we’re tough and we finish out possessions, we’re a tough team to beat, and I think we showed that the other night with the resiliency in that type of atmosphere.”

What to Watch For

Will Eric Ayala be a factor?

Senior guard Eric Ayala was Maryland’s top scorer entering the first meeting with Ohio State, but his production has seen a steep decline as he’s dealt with injury issues of late. Ayala shot just 2-for-9 against the Buckeyes, and since then, he has missed one game and come off the bench in two others while trying to recover from a wrist injury. Including the Ohio State game, Ayala is averaging just seven points a game on 29.3 percent shooting in his last five appearances, and his success – or lack thereof – could be a major factor in this one.

Defending the 3-point line

While Maryland trailed by as many as 22 points in the second half of the last matchup, it did have some success at the 3-point line, where the Terps’ 29 attempts were the most any team has taken against the Buckeyes this season. Maryland knocked down 10 of those to account for just under half of its entire scoring production, and the Terps have hit double-digit 3-pointers on two occasions since then as well. If Maryland has a chance to upset Ohio State, it’ll likely happen as a result of a 3-point flurry, which the Buckeyes will hope to avoid.

Buckeye offense coming in hot

Not until Thursday had Ohio State scored 80 points in back-to-back Big Ten games this season. The Buckeyes put up 80, albeit in overtime, against Indiana as they finished red hot against the Hoosiers on Monday. Ohio State scored 86 to beat Illinois on the road three days ago. The Buckeyes shot 51.9 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 81.3 percent from the free-throw line in a hostile environment in Champaign, and Ohio State already has an 82-point performance against Maryland under its belt this season.

Three Important Buckeyes

Malaki Branham

No young Big Ten player’s stock is rising more rapidly than Malaki Branham, who is averaging 26.7 points, shooting 70 percent from the field and 60 percent from the 3-point line in his last three games. Branham had 31 in a win against Illinois, 27 against Indiana the game before that and 22 in the Buckeyes’ recent loss to Iowa. The first-year wing seems to be getting hotter by the minute for Ohio State, which isn’t shying away from leaning on its emerging star.

“I think if you watch us as of late, obviously E.J.’s gonna be E.J., but we’ve been riding the back of Malaki now for several games,” Skinn said. “ I don’t think anything changes for us schematically, we’ve just gotta continue to be who we are with the leadership of E.J., and I guess you could call him the Robin of our team in the freshman Malaki.”

E.J. Liddell

Fighting through the flu in his past couple outings, Liddell should be closer to full health when things tip off in Maryland on Sunday. Even while ill, Liddell managed to put up 21 points and block four shots against Illinois, and the Buckeyes’ leading scorer and rebounder is expected to be back to his regular self against the Terrapins.

“We put a lot on E.J., and given his performance the other night, I think he was definitely not feeling himself,” Skinn said. “He’s feeling a lot better 48 hours later, so I expect the normal E.J. that we’re so used to watching.”

Kyle Young

The Buckeye captain has quietly had a late-season scoring resurgence, as Young has responded from a cold spell to average 12 points per game on nearly 69 percent shooting in his last three performances. Young tied his season-high with 18 against Illinois, hitting six of his seven shot attempts, and the fifth-year forward pulled down seven rebounds as well. If Young can continue to be a reliable third scoring option for Ohio State, it will only mean good things for the Buckeyes down the stretch of the season.

Three Important Terps

Player Position Height Weight Stats
FATTS RUSSELL G 5-11 165 14.4 PPG, 3.6 APG
ERIC AYALA G 6-5 205 14.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG
HAKIM HART G 6-8 205 9.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG
DONTA SCOTT F 6-8 230 12.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG
QUDUS WAHAB C 6-11 240 8.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG

Donta Scott

In the last time out against Ohio State, Scott tied his most prolific scoring night of the season with a 25-point effort that led all scorers. Scott went bombs away from the 3-point line, hitting five of his eight attempts and knocking down 61.3 percent of his shots overall. That game didn’t spark an uptick in play from the junior thereafter, as Scott has averaged 11.2 points in the five games since, but Scott’s name may be more pronounced on the scouting report nonetheless.

Fatts Russell

The 5-foot-10 Rhode Island transfer has been on an absolute tear since the Buckeyes last played him, as Russell has put up an average of 21.6 points per game in his last five appearances since scoring a ho-hum 12 points against Ohio State. Russell has scored at least 20 points in four of Maryland’s last five games, and the one time he didn’t was an 18-point outing. Russell seems to be playing his best ball of the year at the right time for Maryland, and he could present more problems for the Buckeyes than he did this time than he did three weeks ago.

Qudus Wahab

With the size to make things difficult for the Buckeye bigs on the interior, 6-foot-11 Qudus Wahab had 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting against Ohio State in the first matchup. The Georgetown transfer is averaging 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season, but his 11 double-digit scoring performances this year prove he is capable of upping his level of play on any given night.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -4, O/U 142.5

Maryland didn’t have the firepower to truly contend with the Buckeyes in the first matchup, and I don’t see that changing the second time around. Given the hot streak that Branham has been on, coupled with a healthy Liddell, Ohio State should roll once again, even in the Terps’ backyard.

Prediction: Ohio State 80, Maryland 68

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