Nearly 16 minutes into Ohio State's win over Maryland on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes LaQuinton Ross drew a shooting foul, then drained one of two from the line. A pedestrian occurrence, but Ross' conversion at the 5:35 mark carried more significance than any garden-variety trip to the charity stripe.
The free throw, which put the Buckeyes up 28-20, accounted for the first Ohio State points that hadn't come as a set of three. By that point, Ross himself had already poured in four triples. His teammates had added two more. Meanwhile, Lenzelle Smith converted two of the three and-ones the Buckeyes had piled up.
And that was when Maryland (5-3) was still in the game.
From there, a series of Terps' turnovers turned into easy buckets on the other end and the Buckeye lead ballooned to 17 by the half. Maryland could only manage to get as close as 14 and ultimately fell, 76-60, to fifth-ranked Ohio State (7-0) at the Value City Arena in Columbus.
Behind Ross, who finished with 20 points, the Buckeyes stormed out of the gates, torching a Maryland perimeter defense that head coach Mark Turgeon had hoped found its stride in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's installment of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The Buckeyes forced 10 first half turnovers and converted them into 18 points to open up a lead that Maryland would never challenge and that, at one point, grew as large as 25. Point guard Aaron Craft nabbed five steals, adding to a career total that is already the all-time best at Ohio State.
Given their point guard issues, it wasn't surprising that Maryland struggled to handle the pressure of Craft and his pesky backcourt mate Shannon Scott. The Buckeyes offense, however, entered the night averaging an unspectacular 74.5 points per game. But Turgeon sensed that they could be on the verge of exploding.
"I think they're a lot better than their numbers show offensively," the Maryland coach said yesterday. "I think they've had guys that haven't been making shots that can make shots. I think they have eight guys that are capable of scoring in double figures every night."
The Buckeyes sure lived up to Turgeon's words on Wednesday night, shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from behind the arc. Turgeon stressed the importance of getting a hand in the face of shooters, but his commands went unfulfilled as the Buckeyes' best launched unobstructed early and often from behind the arc.
The Maryland offense eventually settled down after a turnover-filled first half that saw them score only 26 points, tied for their lowest output of the season. Evan Smotrycz continued to play well, scoring 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and pulling down seven boards. Dez Wells paced the Terps in the second half, finishing with 19 points on the night. Charles Mitchell was solid once again, combined 12 points with 11 rebounds. The always-maddening Nick Faust did not have a good night, making only two of nine shots and losing track of Ross several times in the game's opening minutes.
Missing for Maryland on Wednesday were the contributions of early-season MVP Jake Layman, who contributed only an early layup and went 0-for-5 from deep. The Buckeyes, who entered the night second in the nation in defensive efficiency, put the clamps on the Terps' sniper, effectively taking him out of the game.
Without their best shooter, Maryland shot 2-of-18 from downtown and never stood a chance in a hostile environment against a legitimate national title contender. The Terps shot 39.1 percent from the field and made only eight of 13 free throws. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes were 18-of-29 from the charity stripe.
The loss makes 13 in a row for Maryland on the road against top 25 opponents. They play next on Sunday against George Washington in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.