Win Over Maryland Would Add Gold Star to OSU's NCAA Resume

Bruce Hooley

An Ohio State season that started with so much promise has morphed into a tedious survival test the Buckeyes are pretty sure they'll weather, but would feel better about with an immunity challenge in their pocket.

That's the opportunity a 4 p.m. Sunday tip against Maryland affords.

The street cred OSU's NCAA Tournament resume could gain from a nationally-televised (CBS) upset of the seventh-ranked Terrapins would be valuable in many ways.

First, as validation that the Buckeyes are deserving of a favorable post-season seed based upon something besides their 9-0 start and early-season wins over Cincinnati, Villanova and Kentucky.

Second, as an ego-boost in the wake of a Big Ten season that's seen them already lose twice at home and thus avoid a Maryland sweep like has already been surrendered to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Third, a win would resuscitate the momentum Ohio State lost with an 85-76 loss Thursday night at Iowa, which interrupted a streak of five wins in six games.

"I don't think you're going to win on the road in this league, or at home for that matter, with a lack of bite that we had in the first five minutes," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "Deflections. Physicality defensively. Physicality into the ball. All of that. We didn't have enough of that kind of activity."

That's how OSU fell into a 10-point hole after four minutes and a 19-point cavern in the first half, ending all viable chance of beating the No. 20 Hawkeyes.

Holtmann is now 6-14 vs. ranked opponents at Ohio State (17-9, 7-8), which his critics are using as a weapon against him, but at this juncture still leans toward a compliment given the mess he inherited three seasons ago.

Still, three seasons is enough to have more than a team hanging onto a No. 25 ranking after advancing as high as No. 2 in the nation.

It's still too early for impatient Ohio State fans to wonder about the state of program, but it's not too early to start wondering when it will no longer be too early to raise expectations.

Injuries and other circumstances haven't done Holtmann any favors this season, what with six rotation players having missed at least one game with an injury, a suspension or a leave from the team.

That group includes starters Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson and Kyle Young, sometimes-starter and second-leading scorer Duane Washington, third-leading scorer D.J. Carton and junior Musa Jallow, whose defensive toughness and effort alone would be a winning lottery ticket on a roster that too often falls asleep, like it did at Iowa.

The Hawkeyes' 85 points were a season-high against OSU, which must deal with the double-barreled threat of Maryland's Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith.

They're the biggest reasons the Terps (22-4, 12-3) lead the Big Ten and have won nine straight games.

Smith, a 6-10 sophomore, has had a double-double in each of those victories and is coming off a 22-point, 19-rebound effort against Northwestern.

He must look at Ohio State junior Kaleb Wesson, played under the table by Iowa's Luka Garza on Thursday, and see a chance to polish his NBA Draft stock.

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