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Three takeaways from No. 12 Maryland basketball’s 67-55 win over No. 11 Ohio State

COLLEGE PARK — From the Maryland men’s basketball team’s starting lineup and bench rotation to Aaron Wiggins’ dunks, here are three takeaways from the No. 12 Terps’ 67-55 win over No. 11 Ohio State on Tuesday night.

It appears that Mark Turgeon has settled on a starting lineup and a rotation.

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Throughout his nine seasons coaching the Terps, Turgeon has typically used most if not all of the nonconference schedule to figure out who he wanted to play and in what roles. Often there wasn’t a discernible difference in talent among the starters. And typically, there was a significant drop-off from the starters to the bench.

While that changed in 2015-16, when Maryland had perhaps its best starting lineup under Turgeon but little depth, and again the following season when freshmen Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson quickly established themselves as complementary pieces next to Melo Trimble, this is beginning to look like the deepest and most versatile group of Terps since the back-to-back Final Four teams in 2001 and 2002.

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The recent departure of the Mitchell twins not only removed a growing distraction at practice, but also gave Turgeon more clarity when it came to figuring out a starting lineup and the way he was going to use his bench. Freshman forward Donta Scott appears to be getting more comfortable as a starter, and sophomores Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo Jr. and Serrel Smith Jr. give the Terps experience off the bench.

That’s not to say Turgeon is locked into both his starting lineup and rotation for the remainder of the season — particularly since he doesn’t know what 7-foot-2 freshman center Chol Marial is going to look like a month from now. Unlike past seasons, Turgeon seems less concerned about the individual matchups and more focused on what a matchup nightmare his own team can be.

If defense is going to carry Maryland until the offense becomes more consistent, as was the case for long stretches of Tuesday’s game, the Terps are well-stocked in that area with their reserves. As solid as the starting lineup has been the past two games on the defensive end, the bench has been just as effective, especially with the ball pressure Smith plays and the shot-blocking abilities both Lindo and Marial possess.

On the offensive end, Ayala has provided a spark as a scorer and a facilitator. He was a key factor in helping Maryland not get blown out early by Ohio State after the Terps failed to score before the first media timeout. Considered a “sixth starter” by Turgeon in the way Aaron Wiggins was last season, Ayala’s leadership on the second unit and alongside Cowan will be another key as the Big Ten season evolves.

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'Stix’ is becoming every bit the defender Bruno Fernando was last season.

There was a lot of concern going into the Ohio State game about how the Terps would defend Kaleb Wesson, the massive junior center for the Buckeyes. Considering that he outweighed Jalen Smith by some 40 pounds, many thought Turgeon would try to counter by playing the 3-2 zone that has been so effective this season.

What happened? The 6-10, 225-pound Smith played Wesson to a virtual standoff. The Buckeyes’ big man finished with 15 points and nine rebounds to 11 and seven for “Stix”, and Smith withstood getting hit in the face a few times and never backed down. Smith’s ability to get out and help on ball screens also contributed to Ohio State not getting as many free looks on 3-pointers, leading to a 5-for-27 shooting night from beyond the arc.

Again, it helps put the departure of the Mitchells in the rear-view mirror since Smith’s ability to play against opposing centers will help give Marial a little more time to develop. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said that Maryland’s length inside — not only with Smith, but Lindo and Marial as well — was difficult for the Buckeyes to counter.

The matchup with Wesson was different that what Smith and the Terps will face Friday at Iowa. Junior center Luka Garza, who many teams, including Maryland, passed on coming out of the Maret School in Washington (where he was coached by Chuck Driesell, son of former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Lefty Driesell, his last two years) has emerged as the best big man in the Big Ten, leading the league in scoring and placing second in rebounding.

While Garza doesn’t play with the physicality of Wesson or Jon Teske at Michigan, his ability to step outside to shoot will put pressure on Smith to keep fighting his way through ball screens without fouling, as he did against the Buckeyes after Wesson hit an early 3-pointer, and play with patience inside as Garza maneuvers for shots near the basket.

Smith’s versatility as a defender also allows Turgeon to stick with his man-to-man defense, as he did for the entirety of Tuesday’s game. It’s going to be interesting to see how long it takes for Turgeon to play Smith and Marial together at key junctures, given how there were times last season when Smith found himself on the bench because he and Fernando struggled together at times, especially against smaller teams.

Aaron Wiggins is working his way into the lore of Maryland’s best dunkers.

It’s funny to think that Wiggins rarely dunked as a freshman, mostly because he seemed to spend most of his time on the perimeter taking 3-pointers and rarely put the ball on the floor to drive to the basket. While his 3-point accuracy is still not nearly what it was a year ago, Wiggins is showing a different dimension once he is airborne.

Wiggins had two dunks against the Buckeyes, one a forceful one-handed flush on a fastbreak and the other a two-handed putback off a missed 3-pointer by Ayala that helped end any thought of Ohio State making a late comeback in the final minutes. They joined the list that includes a rock-the-cradle dunk in Saturday’s win over Indiana and, of course, the two-handed follow dunk off his own missed 3 to the end the first half last month against Notre Dame.

As a freshman, Wiggins showed flashes of his dunking ability. The most dynamic came in an otherwise forgettable performance by the Terps in their first-round loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament, when Wiggins deflected a pass in the backcourt, made a spin move right before he took off and threw it down with two hands.

With the exception of Fernando, Maryland has not had many big-time dunkers under Turgeon. Jake Layman certainly had his moments, especially when he took lob passes off baseline screens. Huerter had a couple too, but not like some of those he has made in his two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. The list is pretty short.

While nobody is yet is saying that the 6-foot-6 Wiggins is in the same stratosphere as Steve Francis or Len Bias, or even Exree Hipp and Chris Wilcox, his ability to finish at the rim, sometimes through contact, is still pretty impressive given where he was as a freshman, when he rarely dunked and went to the free-throw line only 30 times the entire season.

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If he ever finds a consistent midrange game, or if his 3-point accuracy returns, he’s going to become dangerous.

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No. 12 Maryland@Iowa

Friday, 7 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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