Letdown? What letdown? High-flying Buckeyes keep rolling with fifth straight win
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — State pride is always evident at a Maryland men’s basketball game.
At the first media timeout of the second half inside the Xfinity Center, the student section behind the basket where the opponents are shooting raises a massive replica of the state flag, which that stretches from court to rafters. It unfurls as a hype video slowly intensifies on the scoreboard, sending the place into a frenzy as the music crescendos.
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On Monday night, that music still played, and that video was still shown. But the banner had been in place for hours, long before No. 4 Ohio State took the floor for a game against the Terrapins.
There just weren’t any students there. If they had been, they would have seen the Buckeyes push their lead to 41-32 on a pair of E.J. Liddell free throws right before the timeout.
Maybe they would have stuck around to sing the alma mater when the final horn sounded. Instead, the Buckeyes patiently waited as Maryland players ignored the public-address announcer who had asked all present to stand for a recorded playing of the alma mater and headed off the court instead.
Then OSU players rushed to the visitors’ locker room and celebrated like no other team in program history has in College Park.
True, the schools share a truncated history, largely because Maryland didn't join the Big Ten until the 2014-15 season. But a first is a first, and Ohio State's 73-65 victory indeed was its first in the Xfinity Center after four fruitless trips here.
What's more, after falling behind by as many as eight points early, OSU was not seriously threatened by the hosts for the entirety of the second half. Ohio State led for the final 24 minutes, 40 seconds, at one point pushing its lead to 16 points, at 58-42.
In their past four trips to the Xfinity Center, which in 2002 replaced Cole Field House as Maryland's home court, the Buckeyes led for a total of 16:30. In one of those games, a 100-65 shelling in January 2016, they never led.
“I thought our guys had a good focus and mindset about (Monday),” coach Chris Holtmann said. “I was not terribly pleased with a couple early stretches, but outside of that I thought it was a really quality performance.”
It had all the makings of a trap game for the Buckeyes (16-4, 10-4), who continue to ascend the national rankings. They climbed three more spots earlier Monday following last Thursday’s win at No. 8 Iowa for their highest ranking since they were No. 2 in December last season.
But with a clear path to a No. 1 ranking on the horizon that month, Ohio State went to unranked Minnesota and took a 13-point loss during a game in which they trailed for more than 33 minutes.
That team got tripped up. This team did not.
“We came out a little slow in the beginning but we needed to turn it around really quick and play with more toughness, aggressiveness,” senior forward Kyle Young said. “Once we started to do that the game started to turn around a little bit. Starting the second half we came out with much more energy.”
Young had a lot to do with that, finishing with a career-high 18 points, tying Duane Washington Jr. for the team lead. The defense, too, stepped up, allowing Maryland (10-10, 4-9) just one field goal during a stretch of 13:37 that started with 6:25 remaining in the first half and extending until the 12:48 mark of the second half as the Buckeyes turned a 25-19 deficit into a 46-32 lead.
Shortly before that run, Holtmann delivered a red-faced lecture during a timeout that got the attention of his players.
“We needed it,” Washington said. “We were a little sluggish, little slow. He definitely got on us and told us that we need to pick it up. We got out of it what we needed to hear.”
With that, the thought of a letdown game — or an upset loss — was put squarely in the past. Consider it another test passed.