Ohio State's Kyle Young upset with 'horrible' Maryland loss that dashes title hopes
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – “Horrible.”
Kyle Young could have been talking about just about anything that had just taken place. It was Sunday evening inside the Xfinity Center, and No. 22 Ohio State had just taken a 75-60 loss to an unranked Maryland team that entered the night two games under .500 for the season and languishing at 5-12 in Big Ten play.
The loss itself was tough to swallow. This was more than that for Young. It was the bigger picture, the journey that led to this moment and the promise now, barring a miracle, is left unfulfilled.
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Thursday night, the Buckeyes went to No. 15 Illinois and emerged with a nail-biting, 86-83 thriller that pushed them even with the Fighting Illini in the Big Ten loss column. With four games remaining, Ohio State sat one loss behind Wisconsin and Purdue atop the league standings and needing only a little help to chart a path toward at least a share of the program’s first league title in a decade. A result or two would have to go their way, but the situation was clear.
Win out, and give yourselves a legitimate shot at a trophy. It was something Young, who has been with coach Chris Holtmann every step of the way for the last five years, would have cherished.
Emphasis on the past tense. Rather than build upon the hard-earned momentum won at the State Farm Center three days earlier, Ohio State allowed Maryland to open with an 8-0 run, settle in from there and run away with a 75-60 victory that was every bit as decisive as it was deflating. Standing in the hallway outside the visitors’ locker room that doubles as an exit for fans with premium tickets, Young knew the opportunity that had just gotten away and didn’t like the feeling much.
“I think it’s pretty simple: They came out more ready, tougher, played harder,” Young said. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you (why). I just think we weren’t as prepared and ready as we should be. Like I’ve mentioned in the past, the team that throws the first punch typically sets the rules leads it that way.
“We just weren’t able to do that tonight.”
It wasn’t just that Ohio State gave up offensive rebounds. The Buckeyes actually out-rebounded Maryland on the offense glass, 12 to 11. It was that seemingly every time Maryland grabbed one of its own misses, the results were more points for the Terrapins. Maryland scored 17 second-chance points, nearly three times as many as did the Buckeyes (six).
Ohio State also finished with 11 turnovers, four more than Maryland, but the Terrapins outscored the Buckeyes 18-7 in points off of turnovers. In a 15-point win, Maryland outscored the Buckeyes by a combined 22 points in two categories that pretty strongly correlate to effort.
The Buckeyes didn’t have enough of it, and given the stakes of the game, the reasons were as elusive as the effort was. Asked if his players fully understood the challenge ahead of them, coming off an emotional win and facing a program honoring its revered 2002 national championship team, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was blunt.
“Clearly not,” he said. “We just didn’t bring enough toughness or competitiveness to start the game, for sure.”
As he often does, Young proved himself the example. As Ohio State limped to a 28-point first half during which it went 11 for 30 (36.7%) from the floor and 3 for 16 (18.8%) from 3, Young was perfect on four field-goal attempts, all from near the rim. He battled defensively, used his physicality to find gaps in the defense and generally shouldered a heavy load.
Be it due to fatigue, or Maryland’s defensive capabilities, his teammates struggled to follow suit. Young’s production came off the bench, where he entered the game with Ohio State already down 8-0 at the 17:08 mark. He did his part, but the fact that more Ohio State players did not was a source of frustration from coaches and players alike.
“We all have to be accountable for that,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “Our captains, us as a coaching staff, we just didn’t perform as well as we needed to but give them credit, too. I thought they played well, but that’s not just on players, not just on coaches, it’s on all of us together. We’ve got to own it and take accountability for it.
“Clearly they didn’t get the message that this was going to be a different game, much different game than when we played.”
Except for the longest-tenured player, the one playing like he sees the metaphorical sand running out of the hourglass.
“Kyle, I thought, brought good competitiveness, good energy, good lift,” Holtmann said. “I’ve got to look at it. Maybe I’m playing guys a little too long. Maybe there’s a fatigue factor.”
Young looked tired by the time his time with the media wrapped up. This wasn’t how he had envisioned this trip going, or how he felt this Buckeyes team was capable of playing. So while all losses hurt, especially late-February ones for a player with only three regular-season games remaining, Young brought out the H-word when asked how this will sit with him.
“Horrible,” he said. “There’s not really another way to describe it. This one hurts. It definitely hurts.”
The Buckeyes host Nebraska on Tuesday.
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Zed Key leaves with ankle injury
Ohio State sophomore center Zed Key walked out of the Xfinity Center with his right ankle in a walking boot after a collision with Maryland’s Eric Ayala forced him to limp off the court in significant pain. He finished with 1 point, four rebounds, two blocks, one turnover and four fouls in 10:33.
His status wasn’t immediately known after the game, but Holtmann looked toward the future when discussing Key.
“I’m not sure yet on Zed,” he said. “He couldn’t play, clearly. Obviously we’ve got three games this week, so I’m not sure what that’s going to look like. Hopefully we’ll get him back, but obviously we’ve got postseason to think about as well. He’ll get evaluated and we’ll know a little bit more.”
Meechie Johnson, Kyle Young 3-point misses swung momentum
In a 15-point loss, there are more than one or two plays that decided the final outcome. But with Ohio State hanging within a one-possession deficit during the second half, the Buckeyes got a pair of good-looking 3-point attempts that could have tied the game or reclaimed the lead.
Neither fell, and they would prove to be the final what-if moments of the game.
The first came with Maryland holding a 44-42 lead and the midpoint of the second half approaching. After Meechie Johnson stole the ball from Julian Reese, the second-year freshman guard lined up a 3-point attempt from a foot behind the arc. It a quick shot, taken early in the shot clock and not really in the flow of the offense, but it was the kind of shot Johnson has frequently nailed this season. A 34.2% 3-point shooter this season, Johnson let this one fly and it looked good out of his hand.
It was just a bit long, and it didn’t fall. Maryland regained possession and got a 3-point miss of its own from Xavier Green, but when his didn’t fall Donta Scott beat Malaki Branham for the offensive rebound and scored on the put-back while being fouled for a three-point play to push the Terrapin lead back to five points.
Johnson blew past Fatts Russell for a layup to cut it to 47-44, and after Young picked off a Reese pass, the Buckeyes swung the ball to Young on the left wing. He was open, he let it fly and it rattled around the rim without falling through.
On the next possession, Scott drew a foul on E.J. Liddell, hit both free throws and the deficit was back to five points.
Had either Johnson or Young hit one of those 3-pointers, it had the potential to alter the momentum of the game. But they missed, Maryland didn’t and for the final 7:45 the Terrapins enjoyed a multi-possession lead.
Malaki Branham, E.J. Liddell both labor to cold-shooting games
No two players have proven themselves more important to Ohio State’s success this season than E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham. Sunday against Maryland, both struggled in significant ways.
Branham led the Buckeyes with 13 points but was 4 for 13 from the floor. In the win against Indiana on Feb. 21, he had 27 points on 13 shots. In Thursday’s win at Illinois, he had 31 points on 14 shots. This time, the Terrapins used their length and physicality to bother him.
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“I think he’s just got to keep playing with a little more physicality,” Holtmann said. “They bumped him off his spot last time. He struggled a little bit with their length and size of their guards and their wings. We know with Malaki he’s got a slight frame and he’s got to continue to work and get stronger and play with force on both ends. He’s got to be able to rebound the ball better for us, but listen, the kid’s been phenomenal. Might’ve been a little bit of a fatigue factor there, too.”
In the first meeting between these teams, Branham finished with 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting. He left the Xfinity Center with his left foot in a walking boot.
Liddell, who had 21 points at Illinois despite dealing with a flu that hospitalized him after the Indiana game, finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting. Half of his shots were from 3-point range, all misses, and he had six rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a turnover.
“They did a good job trapping and coming and getting him off his spots and fronting him,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to work to get a little more involved. He’s got to bring more effort in certain areas, but we’ve also got to find ways to get in him more spots.”
Liddell played a team-high 35:31. Branham was next at 33:29.
“He looked a little tired today, as did E.J. a couple of our other guys did, too,” Holtmann said of Branham. “Their length and their size, they were really physical on his cuts.”
Why did Ohio State attempt so many 3-pointers?
Maryland has the fourth-worst 2-point field-goal percentage defense in Big Ten play. The Terrapins are allowing league foes to shoot 51.1% from inside the 3-point line.
Ohio State attempted 48.3% of its shots from 3-point range in this game and made 28.6% of them (8 for 28). Just one other Big Ten team has taken a higher percentage of its shots from 3-point range against the Terrapins this season: Iowa, which shot 52.3% of its shots from deep and won the game 110-87 on Feb. 10.
The Buckeyes took 10 of their first 17 shots from deep and made just one of them.
“I just think we were taking some of the looks we were getting,” Young said. “That was just how they were defending us. We were getting those looks and lot of them weren’t falling.”
Two Buckeyes had success from deep against the Terrapins. Jamari Wheeler was perfect on three attempts. Cedric Russell, off the bench, was 4 for 5. Wheeler had 11 points; Russell 12. Aside from those two, Liddell (0 for 5), Gene Brown III (0 for 4), Branham (1 for 6), Justin Ahrens (0 for 2), Johnson (0 for 2) and Young (0 for 1) were a combined 1 for 20.
“They had more bite to them overall than they did at our place,” Holtmann said of Maryland’s defense. “I thought we missed some open looks there early, but we settled for a few too many 3s, too. Their physicality, they were much more physical than they were at our place.”
*Ohio State had its lowest turnover rate of the season in its first meeting with the Terrapins according to KenPom.com, giving the ball away on 9.0% of its possessions. Sunday, Ohio State’s turnover rate was 17.6, its 11th-worst mark of 26 games.
*The Buckeyes finished with six turnovers, tying a season low. They had double-digit assists in 18 of their first 20 games this season but have had single digits now in five of their last six.