The Michigan State Spartans women's basketball team that limped into Xfinity Center Thursday night in some ways resembled the Maryland Terrapins of two seasons ago -- a team so decimated by injuries that coach Suzy Merchant had to recruit a senior volleyball player, Kelsey Kuipers, to fill out her roster to eight players. "I'm just trying to keep the boat afloat right now with two walk-ons and five scholarship kids," said Merchant afterward.
As one would expect from a team called the Spartans, Michigan State is a disciplined squad, but discipline and one very talented player were far from sufficient to prevent the visitors from suffering a 85-56 defeat at the hands of the Terps.
First half - An uninspired start
The Terps won the opening tip and worked the ball around Michigan State's zone to get a good look for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough who missed the short jumper. Michigan State answered with five straight points and, for several minutes, Maryland played into the Spartans hands by launching a sequence of long range jumpers early in the shot clock that failed to exploit the Terps' depth and inside advantages. The poor shot selection combined with a certain lack of intensity allowed MSU to dominate on the boards and hold an early 11-3 rebounding edge. "They came in hard early wanting to start strong," said Brenda Frese. "We felt as a staff that we wanted to weather that and as the game unfolded we'd be able to break it open."
After the first media timeout, Maryland turned up their defensive pressure in the quarter court and by instituting a half-court press after made baskets that generated four points off four MSU turnovers. The Terrapins grabbed the lead for the first time with 11:54 to play when Brionna Jones scored on an offensive rebound.
Meanwhile, for Michigan State, sophomore Aerial Powers was every bit as good as advertised. The athletic forward scored from all over the court and often leaped over Maryland players to grab rebounds. By the under eight-minute timeout, Powers had eight points, seven rebounds and three assists. Powers would pick up her third consecutive double double and seventh in the last eight games before the half ended.
Jones, who helped the Terps close the rebounding gap, picked up her second foul with 5:45 to go and went to the bench for the remainder of the half. This didn't slow the Terrapins, who began to move the ball crisply around State's zone and find the holes. Maryland went on a 6-0 run over a minute and a half to take a 31-22 lead and prompt a timeout by Merchant.
The Spartans failed to slow Maryland's momentum. The Terps picked up a steal on MSU's first possession out of the timeout and Kiara Leslie, enjoying her best game since scoring 13 at Coppin State, made breakaway layups on back-to-back possessions. The freshman finished the half with six points as the Terps led 37-26 at the break.
Second half - Pressing the advantage
The Terrapins didn't suffer the start-of-the-half sluggishness that they have shown from time to time. After a turnover on their opening possession, Maryland went on a 5-0 run that included a traditional three-point play by Laurin Mincy to open a 16-point lead.
Having found ways to open the inside of Michigan State's zone, Maryland began to find the range from behind the arc. Mincy and Lexie Brown made a pair of long-range jumpers sandwiching a pair of Brown free throws that extended the lead to 51-30.
The Terps opened their largest lead of 24 before Powers reasserted herself to score six of the next nine for Michigan State. When they went to the bench for the under 12-minute media timeout the Spartans had cut the lead to 19. However, Maryland scored the first four points out of the break and led 66-43 by the next media timeout.
Maryland's inside game took its toll on MSU. At that break, Maryland had taken a 30-29 edge on the boards and were thoroughly dominant scoring inside with a 38-14 advantage. Though lanes were opening for the Terps from all over the court and Maryland ran several textbook fastbreaks, much of the inside work was done by Jones who finished with 12 points and Malina Howard who reached double digits for the first time since the third game of the season against South Florida and finished with 10. Said Frese, "Malina came ready to play and was really aggressive. I thought we were really unselfish trying to get her more touches."
WIth the game well in hand, some in the announced crowd of 5,012 began to trickle out early but those who left early missed some showtime quality baskets by Brene Moseley and Walker-Kimbrough whose last basket made her the fifth Terrapin in double figures led by Mincy's 17. The Terps shot 50 percent for the game and had 21 assists to only nine turnovers in the 85-56 win.
Maryland takes their 10-game winning streak and perfect 7-0 B1G record on the road for their next two contests to close out the first half of the conference schedule. After visiting Indiana and Michigan, the Terps will return home to face 18th ranked Iowa on February 1.