COLLEGE PARK, Md. — If there was a time to fold up shop, it had finally arrived for Ohio State. In the 48 hours leading into a return to the site of the worst loss in Thad Matta’s 13 seasons at OSU, the Buckeyes were shaken as two of their players left the team to deal with family emergencies.
Then, with a two-game winning streak on the line and a chance to play itself onto the NCAA Tournament bubble, Ohio State missed its first 10 shots and spotted No. 21 Maryland a 9-0 lead before a game Saturday at the Xfinity Center was four minutes old.
That start doomed the Buckeyes to an 86-77 loss to the Terrapins (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten), but it didn’t define the game for them. After trailing by as many as 16 points, Ohio State pulled within five points twice in the final three minutes and kept a crowd of 17,950 anxious until the final seconds.
“We just wanted to compete for 40 minutes and I feel like we did that,” senior forward Marc Loving said. “It wasn’t perfect. We turned the ball over in transition and gave them some easy baskets, but I’m happy that we stuck with our competitive nature throughout the whole game.”
Last year, Maryland led by 18 points at the half and as many as 44 in the second before finishing off a 100-65 win. Eleven days after a six-point Terrapins win at Value City Arena, a short-handed Ohio State roster was buoyed by a season-high 24 points from Loving and 20 from Jae’Sean Tate, who passed 1,000 points for his career.
Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle was in Evansville, Indiana, after his sister Jala suffered complications during childbirth earlier in the week. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, out for the season, was in Illinois as his brother, Kai, awaits heart surgery after collapsing and being revived at basketball practice late this week.
“I thought they did a very good job (handling their emotions),” Matta said. “I heard them talking before the game: 'Hey, we’ve got to represent our brothers.' I was very pleased with the job that they did. It doesn’t make it easy, but with that said, they laid it on the line.”
Loving hit consecutive threes to make it a five-point game with 2:43 left, and Baltimore native Kam Williams hit one a minute later to answer a Kevin Huerter three, but Anthony Cowan’s three-pointer with 41 seconds left made it 83-75 and pushed it out of reach.
The loss drops Ohio State (15-11, 5-8) to 1-7 against top-25 RPI teams and 0-6 against top-25 teams in the Associated Press poll. The Buckeyes have tied a Matta-era low with eight conference losses and have five games remaining.
“We were right there and that’s kind of been our thing all year,” sophomore C.J. Jackson said. “We’ve just got to look forward to Tuesday’s game (at Michigan State). It’s another great opportunity for us in the Big Ten and also the RPI rankings.”