In a 76-60 win against Maryland, with a performance that included at one point a 25-point lead before starters were pulled and fans filed out, Ohio State was noticeably inferior to the Terrapins in one critical area – inside. Maryland outrebounded the Buckeyes by a 44-30 margin, outscored them in the paint 44-34 and nearly tripled them in second-chance points, 19-7.
The third-ranked Buckeyes entered (and left with) a positive rebounding margin for the season, but against both major-conference foes they've faced this season, the difference has been more than noticeable. In a 17-point win against Marquette, OSU was outrebounded by 16. In a 16-point triumph against the Terrapins, OSU was outrebounded by 14.
That defect has been disguised by the fact that the Buckeyes haven't actually allowed opponents to do anything with their extra chances. Despite the fact that Marquette and Maryland hoisted a combined 17 more shots than OSU, they still only shot 29.9 percent over the course of those two contests. Still, Ohio State coach Thad Matta knows his team won't be able to give elite teams that many chances.
"If we're going to defend at the level that we're capable of defending, the finished product is (securing) the rebound," Matta said. "Give (Maryland) credit. I think that was on their minds. We knew they were getting 40 percent (of offensive rebounds) going into the game. They did a great job of offensive rebounding. We gave two on the three throws. I said to the ref, ‘I don't know if I've ever seen that happen, where our two guys have it and knock it off each other.' That was our biggest downfall of the night, just the inability to grab rebounds."
The Ohio State defensive scheme wrecked the Terrapins, and that stifling defense is a big reason why the Buckeyes have remained undefeated while lacking a true scorer. In outscoring Maryland 25-8 off turnovers, the Buckeyes covered the final margin of victory by one point.
"It's always our defense," Thompson said. "No matter how well we're shooting the ball, no matter how well we're playing offensively, we'll always be a team that hangs our hat on the defensive end and we will always be a team that likes to get our offense from our defense. Anytime our defense is clicking like that and we're able to get some easy layups in transition, some easy layups off our defense, it really gets us in a good rhythm and a good flow offensively."
To their credit, the Buckeyes seem to recognize that simply forcing turnovers may not be enough when conference play rolls around. Although every Ohio State player who saw the court grabbed at least one rebound, none grabbed more than six. Maryland finished with nearly as many offensive rebounds (19) as Ohio State had defensive (25).
"We know that we're going to get stops defensively, we know we're going to force teams to turn it over, but we cannot get outrebounded the way that we did," Thompson said. "If we want to take the next step as a basketball team, we have to rebound the ball. All five guys have to rebound for 40 minutes, and we didn't do that today. No matter what we're doing defensively, we have to rebound the ball."
In Marquette and Maryland, the Buckeyes have faced quality teams. The Terrapins entered the game 39th among Division I teams with an average rebounding margin of +7.4.
"Obviously, the way they rebounded the ball, they can rebound with the best of them," senior point guard Aaron Craft said.
As of now, the same cannot be said for the Buckeyes – a perfect defensive team in every way but one.