COLUMBUS, Ohio — Maryland’s Dez Wells idled near midcourt, the clock ticking down toward halftime. Opposite him crouched Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, jabbing and waiting for a move. Wells obliged, attempting a crossover dribble. Craft swiped low and plucked the ball away. Off to the races the fifth-ranked Buckeyes went, another easy bucket bred from another Maryland turnover.
The Terrapins knew the pressure awaiting them at Value City Arena for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and collapsed beneath it in a 76-60 loss on Wednesday. Haphazard passes became dunks that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Sloppy defense resulted in uncontested three-pointers. Maryland was wild (10 turnovers by halftime) and Ohio State capitalized (18 points off those) and the upset bid ended early, when the hosts led by double digits nine minutes into the night.
“Clearly, we couldn’t handle it in the first half,” forward Evan Smotrycz said.
Soon, this matchup will pass for a league game, when Maryland leaps to the Big Ten next summer, and conference commissioner Jim Delany was on hand for the preview. But to the Terps, announcing themselves to a future division rival was measurably less important than announcing themselves onto the national scene. Last month, Maryland came close to beating Connecticut in the season opener, but fell one point shy of the early-season upset Coach Mark Turgeon has searched for since coming to College Park.
Another opportunity presented itself Wednesday, but the Terps made just 11.1 percent of their three-pointers (2 for 18) and got two points from Jake Layman, their leading scorer. They rushed off-balance attempts early in the shot clock and threw entry passes into the low post that lacked precision, never discovering the offensive firepower that drove the four-game winning streak they brought into this game. Craft, meanwhile, finished with 10 points, five steals and six assists, justifying the preseason all-American selection that several national outlets gave the senior.
“I just don’t think we competed the way we needed to compete,” Turgeon said. “It’s easy when you’re down 20. You’ve got to compete when the game’s on the line.”
This week, Turgeon also predicted that, if Maryland could make the Buckeyes “take jump shots over hands,” his team would be in good shape, perhaps bound for their first ranked nonconference road win since Dec. 10, 2003.
But how about shooting over no hands? Ohio State’s first nine scoring possessions resulted in three-point plays, whether from beyond the arc or the old-fashioned way, and LaQuinton Ross found himself the beneficiary, hitting three open jumpers before the first media timeout. By halftime, when his team led 43-26 and the game was officially no longer “on the line,” Ross had 17 points.
At that juncture, Wells and Layman had combined to shoot 2 for 12, and beyond Smotrycz and Charles Mitchell, who both finished in double figures with 15 and 12 respectively, no player had more than two points. When the Terps climbed within seven points, they promptly committed four turnovers over their next seven possessions, three of which turned into transition lobs to Sam Thompson.
“They made a lot of shots,” said Wells, who scored a team-high 19 points and vowed to address the Terps as a team leader after what had unfolded. “We couldn’t buy a basket in stretches.”
After Thompson’s fourth alley-oop dunk, this one coming when Craft picked freshman Roddy Peters in the backcourt, Layman received a technical foul while stalking toward the Maryland huddle. The quick whistle didn’t revitalize the Terps. It didn’t strike energy into a listless team that played more defense with its eyes than its feet. It did nothing but award two free throws to Ohio State, and by the time Craft stepped to the line to sink both, Maryland had long been since buried.
“You have to be able to accept losing and compete harder the next game, the next practice,” Wells said. “We can’t hold our heads down. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.”