- The Washington Times
Sunday, February 27, 2022

Stop if you’ve heard this before: Maryland shooting guard Fatts Russell is having an incredible February. 

Well, as the month closes, change ‘have’ to ‘had,’ punctuated with an upset.

The graduate transfer scored a season-high 27 points and eclipsed the 2,000-point mark for his career as the Terrapins knocked off No. 22 Ohio State, 75-60, on Sunday at Xfinity Center.

“I was just shooting, to be honest,” Russell said. “My teammates told me to keep shooting, and my coaches kept believing in me.”

“It was a legendary night, and I’m glad we fought as hard as we did to get the win.”

Backcourt mate Eric Ayala scored 23, and forward Donta Scott added 14 points and 9 rebounds for Maryland (14-15, 6-12 Big Ten), which beat a ranked opponent for the third time this season.

Guard Malaki Branham led Ohio State with 13 points, a dropoff for the talented freshman after scoring 31 in a win Thursday at Illinois. Ohio State guard Cedric Russell added 12 points, and Big Ten Player of the Year candidate E.J. Russell was held to 11 points for the Buckeyes (18-8, 11-6) in a blow to their regular-season conference title hopes.

The upset capped a celebratory weekend in College Park, as Maryland recognized the 20th anniversary of the 2002 national championship team. Returning College Park legends, including Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, got to see a show unlike any other this season from Russell, Ayala and company.

“It was a very special day for Maryland basketball,” Maryland interim coach Danny Manning said. “To have [them] back in the building was a lot of fun.”

Russell finished February with 157 points in eight games, including at least 20 in five of his last six. He and Ayala shot nearly 50% combined (17-of-36) from the floor against the Buckeyes, while Maryland held the Big Ten’s second-best shooting team to 36.2% overall and 8-of-28 from three-point range.

“I really liked our effort, especially guarding the three-point line,” Manning said. “Ohio State missed some shots they normally make, but I thought we were disruptive enough to disrupt their rhythm.” 

Channeling the energy surrounding the celebration, the Terrapins started hot with an 8-0 run. Russell hit a Stephen Curry-level three in that stretch to eclipse the 2,000-point plateau in his fifth collegiate season. The graduate transfer scored nearly 1,600 points in his four years at Rhode Island.

“It’s been a long five years, man,” Russell said. “It means a lot. I’ve been through a lot. Just happy to achieve that milestone.”

“The students were outstanding with the effort and the juice that they supported us with,” Manning said. “I think our guys gave them something to cheer for early on in the ballgame.”

Ohio State settled down, making five of its next seven shots, ripping off an 11-2 run to take its first lead, 11-10.

Russell drove inside and found center Qudus Wahab underneath for a dunk to tie the game at 14, but both teams struggled offensively for the lion’s share of the first half. The Buckeyes missed six straight field goals at two different points in the opening session.

That’s when Ayala got to work, scoring 11 straight Terrapins points on the way to Maryland’s 32-28 halftime lead at halftime, its first advantage at the break in its last 12 games.

The 2002 team was honored on the court during a timeout in the first half as part of a weekend’s worth of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Maryland’s lone men’s basketball national championship. 

Former Maryland coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Gary Williams addressed the home crowd, providing a level of encouragement and a reminder to fans that amidst a currently disappointing and tumultuous season, a legacy of success still endures.

“You’re all a part of one of the great programs in the last 50 years,” Williams said. “We are going to continue to be great. We all are as good as any program in the country, and you’re all a part of that.”

The half was slowed by a slew of fouls that were called from the get-go — nine by Maryland and 15 by Ohio State. The Buckeyes also lost forward Zed Key in the middle of the half after he went up to block an Ayala shot but came down on Maryland forward Julian Reese’s foot and rolled his right ankle.

In the second half, both teams went tit-for-tat in scoring, with Ohio State staying within a couple of possessions of the Terrapins. But it came down again to Maryland’s backcourt, playing its best basketball of the season, to step on the gas and put away Ohio State.

Ayala hit a three with 4:17 to go to cap a 7-0 Maryland run and give the Terrapins an 11-point lead at 64-53. He converted an and-one less than a minute later to push the Terrapins ahead by 13. 

With the crowd whipped into a frenzy, Russell effortlessly hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Maryland its largest lead of the day, 75-57. The smile on Russell’s face after draining his fifth three of the day — the proverbial dagger in the heart of the Buckeyes and the topping on a special weekend for Maryland — said it all.

“We live for these kind of moments,” Ayala said. “We all are fighting for something, and at a time like this, we’re dangerous. If a team comes in front of us, they are going to get a fight for sure.”

NOTE: Maryland forward Pavlo Dziuba came out of the locker room for pregame ceremonies with the flag of his native Ukraine draped over his shoulders. The sophomore from the capital of Kyiv was joined in solidarity by his teammates, who wore blue-and-gold wristbands in support. Ukraine is in the midst of an invasion by neighboring Russia.

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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