Columbus, Ohio — The Maryland men's basketball team exorcised a few recent ghosts here Sunday: two embarrassing one-sided losses to Ohio State at Value City Arena the past two seasons and a painful season-ending loss to West Virginia last year at Nationwide Arena a few miles away downtown.
Though the Buckeyes team they faced was not as experienced or accomplished as those of the past two years, the No. 8 Terps followed up their biggest victory of the season with a gritty, not pretty, 66-61 victory.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he didn't talk much about last season's 24-point loss, the second worst of his five seasons in College Park. Not that he had to, given how badly the Terps played against the Buckeyes and how they were smacked around in a 10-point NCAA tournament loss to the Mountaineers.
"We think about it. We really wanted to win here today," Turgeon said. "They beat us pretty good here the last two years, and of course, the NCAA tournament, we were here. It's good to fly home and have a good taste in your mouth one time."
As much as Turgeon had suffered through the losses in this city, sophomore point guard Melo Trimble and senior forward Jake Layman had equally nightmarish memories of the games they played here. Both felt a sense of redemption against the Buckeyes.
Trimble, who had a season-low three points last season against the Buckeyes and was knocked out of the NCAA tournament loss with a concussion, finished with a game-high 20 points, including a crucial 3-pointer with a little over two minutes to go after missing seven of his first eight 3-pointers.
"I just got to stay confident throughout the whole game. Coach Turgeon relies on me to make those kind of shots, even when my shot's not falling," said Trimble, who finished 7-for-16 overall, and 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. "The shots I took before that one, it was on line, I just didn't make them."
Layman, who shot a combined 5-for-21 in the two losses to the Buckeyes, made all four shots he took in the first half. Twelve of his 16 points came before halftime, helping Maryland (19-3, 8-2 Big Ten Conference) to a six-point lead after Ohio State (14-9, 6-4) jumped out to an early seven-point lead.
"The whole team knows that we had two bad losses here [at Ohio State], so we wanted to come out and do whatever we could to get the win," said Layman, who also finished with a game-high 10 rebounds. "We knew they were going to come out and play hard after what happened in the first game."
At the under-eight-minute timeout Sunday — the same juncture at which the Terps were about to go up 41 points in what became a 35-point home win over Ohio State on Jan. 16 – Maryland led just 48-46. The Buckeyes took the lead twice, the second time on a midrange jumper by redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams (Mount Saint Joseph).
"I thought it was our game with about five minutes to go," said sophomore forward Jae'Sean Tate, who finished with a team-high 16 points.
That feeling was fleeting, as Trimble and Layman each hit a pair of free throws and senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who had spent most of the game finding teammates (including Layman for a terrific alley-oop) while recording five assists, buried a 3-pointer from the left wing. Trimble's 3-pointer soon followed.
It was the second straight game in which the Terps led most of the second half, took their opponent's best punch and survived. Just as it did Thursday against visiting No. 3 Iowa, Maryland was pulled through more by its defense (35.6 field-goal percentage) than its offense (42 percent, including 4-for-16 from beyond the arc). Maryland also made 20 of 23 free throws; the Buckeyes were 14-for-24.
"This was hard," said Turgeon, whp also had to deal with foul trouble for junior forward Robert Carter Jr., Sulaimon and Layman. "One, what happened at our place, and then two, we're coming off an emotional win Thursday night. We did a lot of mental approach to this game. We had a game earlier at Northwestern when we won big at their place and they should have beat us at our place. We ended up winning.
"We had to learn from that experience that we had to be prepared, and I thought we were prepared. Ohio State's got pretty good players, still young. The improvement they've made since we played them, it's amazing. Thad [Matta] has won a ton of games, but this might be his best coaching job."
Said Matta: "I think a majority of their points came from the free-throw line. They were really living at the line down the stretch. We had a ton of shots that were halfway down, and they made those two big 3s [at the end]. Their veteran players were just making veteran plays and won them the game."
It certainly helped chase away the ghosts of the past couple of years, especially for Layman. Asked whether it was easy to put those games out of his mind walking into Value City Arena Sunday, Layman said: "Maybe for me, not so much. For the new guys, it's their first time playing here. Guys from last year don't really understand how important it was for me to come in here and get this win."