The art of reading the tenor of a team is typically tricky, Chris Holtmann said Sunday evening.
And yet, what the Ohio State coach saw at halftime in the eyes of his players — particularly the upperclassmen — gave him plenty of confidence that more good things were ahead for the Buckeyes against seventh-ranked Maryland.
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"They were shaking their head like, ‘Absolutely. The tone we set right now in these first couple possessions will say a lot about our maturity,’" Holtmann said.
Ahead 40-33 at the break after a 10-3 run to close the first half, No. 25 Ohio State (18-9, 8-8 Big Ten) blitzed the Terrapins (22-5, 12-4) with a quick 7-0 run to start the second half, opened up a 14-point lead and led the rest of the way in a 79-72 win in front of a boisterous announced sellout crowd of 18,809 at Value City Arena.
Kaleb Wesson hit a three-pointer, Andre Wesson sank a contested, turnaround jumper and CJ Walker finished a transition opportunity with a nifty step-over move, forcing Maryland to call a timeout just 2:05 into the second half and the Buckeyes ahead 47-33. The Big Ten-leading Terrapins, who brought a nine-game winning streak into the game, never again had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Sophomore guard Luther Muhammad led five Buckeyes players in double figures with a season-high 22 points. He tied a career high with four three-pointers, was perfect on eight free-throw attempts and frustrated Maryland senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. into a game in which he finished with just one field goal.
Where did Muhammad feel he had been most impactful?
"I don’t pay too much attention to that," he said. "I’m happy we won. I’m happy we all played hard. I’m happy we stayed together."
The win came at a cost to the Buckeyes, however. While collecting an offensive rebound late in the first half, junior forward Kyle Young landed on the foot of a Maryland player and had to be helped to the locker room.
Holtmann has been limiting Young’s minutes in practice to avoid a recurrence of a stress fracture in his right foot that held him back last season. He did not return with what the coach said afterward was a high-ankle sprain in the right ankle.
Young’s status going forward is unknown, starting with Thursday night’s game at Nebraska.
He wasn’t the only starter to watch the ending from his team’s bench.
After scoring through contact with 3:54 to play, Cowan was assessed a technical foul that was also his fifth personal foul of the game. While on the ground, Cowan kicked out with his leg in the apparent direction of Kaleb Wesson, although no contact was made.
Official Larry Scirotto cited Rule 10, Section 3, Article 1G of the rule book stating that "a flagrant, non-contact infraction that involves extreme, sometimes abusive, contact when the ball is dead or alive."
The Buckeyes have now beaten four ranked teams this season. In the process, they snapped a seven-game losing streak against ranked Maryland teams dating to 2015.