Ohio State Will Celebrate Monday's Victory Over No. 2 Maryland, But Won't Hang Its Hat on it

By Kevin Harrish on February 21, 2017 at 10:10 am
Kelsey Mitchell scores a contested layup against Maryland.

Maryland has just lost three Big Ten games since joining the conference three seasons ago – all three of those losses have come at the hands of Ohio State.

Things could not have gone better for the Buckeyes Monday night. The team played its best basketball of the season in the biggest game without one of its top players and dominated No. 2 Maryland 98-87.

"That’s the best I’ve seen them,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said after the game. “When they shoot like that, they can go all the way. If you shoot 63 percent from the field and 55 percent from the three-point line, there’s not going to be a lot of people that can touch you. They were sensational.”

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff was reluctant to call the win the biggest of his career, but it almost certainly was. Not only was it his first win over a top-two opponent, it was the team's first since defeating No. 2 Iowa in 1993 – the same year the Buckeyes made their last Final Four appearance. More importantly, though, the win puts Ohio State in the driver's seat for its first Big Ten regular-season title since the 2009-10 season.

They did it all without their top post player, Stephanie Mavunga, who is out for the next few weeks after injuring her foot in practice. She was the team's top rebounder and second-leading scorer. Beating Maryland, who has perhaps the best post player in the country in Brionna Jones was a tall task with Mavunga. It seemed nearly impossible without her. But here we are.

“Losing Steph was obviously devastating for us, but we have other good players," McGuff said. "That’s the nice thing about some of the depth we have. No one blinked, we just said ‘hey, this person step up and we’re going to keep this thing rolling.’"

“It’s a big win, but if this is the defining moment to our season, then it really wasn’t what we wanted.”– Kevin McGuff

The win serves as a measuring stick to give the Buckeyes, giving them an idea of how far they've come since the start of the season. Ohio State hadn't played a ranked opponent since December, and while it seemed the Buckeyes were playing great basketball – winning 14 of its last 15 and nine straight – it was difficult to know for sure against inferior competition.

Maryland was a test, and Ohio State passed with flying colors.

“It shows we can certainly play with anybody in the country and we’re among the best teams in the country and that we’re playing our best basketball at the right time and we have a chance to peak in March, which we all aspire to do," McGuff said.

Ultimately, though, all Ohio State won Monday night was a regular-season basketball game. They'll enjoy the win, then get back to work. They won't be hanging banners, printing T-shirts or handing out rings quite yet.

“It’s a big win," McGuff said, "but if this is the defining moment to our season, then it really wasn’t what we wanted."

The Buckeyes aren't done yet – far from it. They have one more regular-season game against Rutgers with a chance to clinch a share of the Big Ten title and earn the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament where they'll likely have to face Maryland yet again. Then from that point on, it's win or go home.

"It’s almost like you gotta go harder, or just as hard as you did for this game," Kelsey Mitchell said. "Everybody’s talking about Maryland, yeah, we beat Maryland, but now you have a new task to see where your team is mentally and physically."

In Mitchell's mind, every new opponent is a new Goliath to slay – even if they're 3-11 in Big Ten play and just one win better than the worst team in the conference.

"We play Rutgers on Sunday," Mitchell said. "It’s just as hard, if not harder."

Realistically, Rutgers is nowhere near the challenge Maryland was, but the point was made – it was a big win, but the season isn't over. There are still challenges ahead and opportunities to improve.

"We’re going to try to get better this week, we’re going to try to get prepared for that next game," McGuff said. “That’s been kind of our mantra here this year – to make sure we continue to get better. That’s not going to change just because we got a big win.”

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