Friday, February 23, 2024

Missed free throws plague Maryland men’s basketball in double-overtime defeat at Ohio State

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Maryland men’s basketball just couldn’t close it out.

Near the end of regulation Saturday against Ohio State, Donta Scott missed a pair of free throws which would have put the Terps ahead. Jahmir Young then missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer.

In the first overtime, Julian Reese missed a pair of free throws in the final minute. And Young’s attempt at the buzzer once again fell off the mark. In double overtime, Reese missed two more free throws, and Scott fumbled the ball away on Maryland’s final two possessions. The Terps scored zero points in the last 2:37 of the final overtime period.

When there’s desperation, success is the only path to hope. And for the Terps (13-11, 5-8 Big Ten), the smallest glimmer of hope dissipated Saturday afternoon in a 79-75 road defeat against the Buckeyes.

Maryland is now 1-7 this season in games decided by four points or less.

“We’re a free throw here, shot away here… seems like it’s been the whole year,” head coach Kevin Willard said.

Early on, it seemed like Willard’s newly-formed starting lineup — which featured Mady Traore and Jamie Kaiser Jr. in favor of Jordan Geronimo and DeShawn Harris-Smith — was just the offensive spark Maryland needed.

Traore’s 6-foot-11 frame forced Ohio State to alleviate pressure away from Reese, who scored six early points.

The Terps got out to a 13-4 lead just over five minutes in, playing an efficient brand of basketball seldom seen in their past two games.

Willard then opted to experiment with an extended rotation, which ultimately allowed Ohio State to quickly pull back within one.

With the starters reintroduced, the Terps once again took over, eventually getting out to a 10-point lead.

What could’ve — and probably should’ve — been a commanding halftime lead for the Terps, though, ended up being an inconceivable deficit.

For the first 13 minutes, Maryland played efficient basketball on both ends of the floor. But up 30-20 while shooting around 50% from the floor, Maryland’s offensive woes once again reared their ugly head, this time to the tune of a nearly six-minute scoring drought.

A large part of that was Reese’s sudden decline. In addition to his late missed free throws, he finished the game just 4-of-15 from the floor.

“[Reese] had a tough night inside,” Willard said.

And the unfinished possessions disrupted the Terps’ stingy defense, allowing Ohio State to end the half on a 13-2 run. Sophomore guard Bruce Thornton’s layup in the final seconds of the half gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game. Thornton scored eight of his 11 first-half points down the stretch, and finished with a team-high 24 points.

Maryland’s missed opportunities late in the first half proved costly, as both team’s offense’s stalled in the final 20 minutes. Maryland managed 29 points to Ohio State’s 28 in a half which saw 11 combined turnovers and 25 personal fouls.

“Unfortunately, offensively, we’ve struggled a little bit and, you know, it’s just hard to put so much pressure on your defense constantly,” Willard said.

Despite its sluggish play, Willard played a lineup of Young, Harris-Smith, Scott, Jahari Long and Reese for nearly the entire 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Traore, who was a +8 while recording eight points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, did not play after getting subbed halfway through the period.

Maryland’s coach did not make a sub in the final 15 minutes. Young and Scott combined for 45 points on the afternoon, but just two made field goals during that span.

Maryland should’ve been able to put the game away in regulation. Instead, it missed seven late free throws — five of which came from Reese — while Ohio State went 17-of-20 on the afternoon.

“If we just make our free throws…it really comes down to we missed our free throws, they made theirs,” Willard added.

Three things to know

1. No Geronimo, Harris-Smith to the bench. When the starting lineup was revealed, it seemed almost a mistake. It showed Jordan Geronimo and Harris-Smith benched in favor of Kaiser and Traore. Traore had only played 49 total minutes before Saturday’s game, while Kaiser had predominantly been the second guy off the bench.

Kaiser struggled in his 10 minutes, while Geronimo did not see the floor. There was no immediate update postgame on the reason for the Indiana transfer’s absence.

2. Maryland can’t win close games. Numbers don’t lie. Maryland is 1-7 in games decided by a possession.

3. Questionable coaching down the stretch. Maryland’s lack of depth is well-documented, so keeping his starters on the floor down the stretch can be understood.

What confused, though, was Willard’s decision to not call a timeout at the end of both regulation and the first overtime — both possessions resulted in missed potential game-winners. In double overtime, he then called a timeout on each of Maryland’s final two possessions, both of which resulted in turnovers.

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