Malaki Branham, No. 22 Ohio State set to face Maryland
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Ohio State had no idea what to expect from Malaki Branham from game to game last month after he followed a scoreless performance with a 35-point splurge.
But lately, the freshman guard has become both consistent and dependable, averaging 26.7 points the past three games, and his emergence as an offensive force pairing with E.J. Liddell bodes well for the Buckeyes' postseason prospects.
No. 22 Ohio State (18-7, 11-5 Big Ten) will look for more of the same from Branham on Sunday when the Buckeyes face Maryland (13-15, 5-12) in College Park, Md.
Branham, last year's Mr. Basketball in Ohio, has turned it on in his last three games, sinking 28 of 40 from the floor, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 21 of 23 from the free-throw line.
Branham's impact was significant Thursday night as he scored 31 points in Ohio State's 86-83 win at No. 15 Illinois. With Liddell coming off a bout with the flu and Illini fans taunting Branham every time he touched the ball, Liddell was glad to share some of the scoring load.
"I love that confidence," Liddell said after delivering 21 points, six rebounds and four blocks of his own. "For him to step up like that is huge. We're gonna need that more at the end of the season."
In their next outing, the Buckeyes will face another challenging venue. Forget that attendance is down at Maryland, with the Terps likely headed for their first losing season since 1992-93. The atmosphere will change on Sunday as the school will honor its 2002 national championship team and former coach Gary Williams, who also guided Ohio State before taking over at his alma mater.
After the win at Illinois, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was quick to point out to his players what they would face, informing them of the party the Terps had planned.
"We'll see if we can respond here in a couple days and play well in a very tough environment against a good team in Maryland," Holtmann said.
The Terps fell Thursday night at Indiana, never leading on their way to a 74-64 defeat. Maryland yielded 59.5 percent shooting and were outscored 44-24 in the paint.
Fatts Russell has been on a tear for the Terps, averaging 21.6 points over the past five games. He made 5 of 9 shots from beyond the arc against Indiana but he didn't get much help as Donta Scott and Eric Ayala combined to make just 1 of 11 attempts from 3-point range.
"I felt like we were lacking some scoring in certain parts of the game," Russell said. "So I just tried to be ultra-aggressive."
Russell leads Maryland in scoring (14.4) and assists (3.6).
--Field Level Media
Updated February 26, 2022