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COLLEGE PARK – When Maryland point guard Serrel Smith first arrived in College Park, his teammates quickly bestowed a rather unusual nickname upon him. They call him “Microwave.”
Smith insists there’s no real meaning behind the moniker, but his fellow men’s basketball teammates have stated that Smith earned the nickname because he heats up quickly, just like the common kitchen device.
Smith certainly lived up to his Microwave nickname in Saturday’s conference matchup against the 17-10 Ohio State Buckeyes. With guard Eric Ayala seeing limited minutes due to an illness, Smith stepped up in Ayala’s absence and, along with starters Anthony Cowan, Jr. and Bruno Fernando, helped lead the Terps to a 72-62 win. Maryland (21-7) is still undefeated at home against Big Ten teams and the Buckeyes have never beaten the Terps in a regular season game in College Park.
Smith, who had come into Saturday’s matchup averaging just 3.6 points per game, poured 14 points on the Buckeyes. Cowan added 19 points along with four rebounds and four assists, while Fernando, despite going scoreless in the first half, notched his eighteenth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“You tell guys to be ready when their number is called, and (Smith) exemplified that today,” said Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon. “I say all the time to people that I wish I could play Serrel more. He’s a great kid, he really stepped up and you could see from the beginning that he was going to play well. I’m really happy for him because he’s one of the first guys in the gym every day and one of the last to leave so for him to be rewarded on a big stage and in a big game like that, that’s terrific.”
“There’s a missing spot that had to be filled. Coach came in and told us (Ayala) wasn’t feeling well, so I knew it was about my time to step up and let it roll,” said Smith.
In addition to having to contend with players like Smith and guard Aaron Wiggins and their contributions off the bench, the Buckeyes had to deal with the absence of guard C.J. Jackson. Jackson, one of Ohio State’s top scorers, suffered an ankle injury last week against Michigan State and exited Wednesday’s game against Northwestern with a shoulder injury.
In fact, the Buckeyes didn’t know that Jackson wouldn’t be able to play against Maryland until 24 hours before the game. Jackson had never missed a single game in his Ohio State career.
“We thought we were going to have him before going into practice yesterday. It was a pain situation, he didn’t feel like he could lift his shoulder,” said Ohio State Head Coach Chris Holtmann. “Obviously we hope we’ll get him back soon enough.”
In Jackson’s absence, the Buckeyes struggled to contain Cowan, who would burst loose and drive down the court untouched for two points. Cowan continued to make his mark from behind the arc as he landed three treys and helped extend Maryland’s second half lead into double-digits. Even though the Buckeyes heavily guarded Fernando, the sophomore from Angola compensated for his first half by netting bucket after bucket.
Ohio State always seemed to be lurking, however. Freshman guard Duane Washington, despite entering into foul trouble in the second half, made big plays and soon the Terps led by just five points.
Buckeyes forward Justin Ahrens completed a hat trick of second half three-pointers, but even Ahrens’ heroics weren’t enough for Maryland to relinquish the lead.
In the end, success at the free throw line helped propel the Terps to victory. Maryland generated 20 points at the line, a stark contrast to just five points by the Buckeyes.
After the game, Smith appeared pleased by the role that he played in his team’s victory.
“Coaches want me to go out there and play my hardest and give it everything I’ve got, and try to give me challenges defensively and not let my man score, and I see that as my role and I try to stick to that,” said Smith. “Every game builds my confidence and builds everybody’s confidence.”
With just three regular season games left to play, the Terps will need every ounce of confidence they can muster in order to win out. Next up, Maryland travels to Penn State for its final road game to face the Nittany Lions in a rematch from December. The Terps won the first meeting, 66-59.