It wasn't exactly a slow start for the Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team in their first trip to State College as a Big Ten member, but it wasn't a particularly fast start either. In the end, the Terps did what they needed to do to remain the B1G's only unbeaten team improving to 11-0 conference record with a 77-62 win over the Lady Lions.
First Half - Playing to weakness before strength
After getting a defensive stop on the opening possession, Lexie Brown got the Terps started by hitting an open three-point shot. This didn't deter the Lions from coming out of their two-three zone and, for the next several minutes, the Terrapins were content to shoot three pointers and long jumpers early in the shot clock.
This is not the most effective strategy for a Maryland team that has been erratic at best in their effectiveness from long distance. While the Terps were missing four straight from distance and struggling with Penn State's size on the few occasions they did get the ball inside, the Lady Lions found enough space and offensive efficiency to open up an early 17-10 lead.
With Brionna Jones, who missed her first four shots, on the bench after picking up two early fouls, Maryland turned up the defensive pressure. Led by 11 points from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and a solid effort off the bench by A'Lexus Harrison, the Terps went on an 11-0 run to take a 21-17 lead before Lindsey Spann made one of two free throws to temporarily slow Maryland's assault.
The defensive pressure created nine early Lady Lions turnovers and led to some easy Maryland baskets. The Terps also settled into a better offensive rhythm and began to find openings and creases in the Penn State zone. After Spann's free throw, Maryland put together a 13-0 run before the Lions scored their first basket in a seven and a half minute span to trim the Terrapins' lead to 33-20.
Back-to-back turnovers by the Lady Lions led to back-to-back breakaway layups by Laurin Mincy and Walker-Kimbrough. Although the home team scored the last basket of the half, the Terps took a 41-24 lead into the break.
Walker-Kimbrough, who was recruited to play volleyball at Penn State, led all scorers and finished the half with 15 points and four rebounds. The Terps also got a strong contribution off the bench from Tierney Pfirman. The junior, who played her high school ball in Williamsport, some 60 miles north of State College, contributed five points and four rebounds in 10 minutes of action.
Second half - No plot twist
When Spann scored the first basket of the second half, the Lady Lions had put together a 4-0 run spanning the two halves. A trio of early turnovers allowed Penn State to briefly cut the lead to 16 on two occasions. Brown got Jones going when she found her fellow sophomore for an easy layup. Jones scored on an offensive put back and completed three point play coming out of the first media timeout to give the Terps their largest lead at 51-32.
The lead passed 20 when Mincy made a pair of free throws. As Penn State began to rush their shots seemingly looking for a 20-point play, back-to-back baskets by Mincy and Walker-Kimbrough extended Maryland's lead to 25. The Terps went through a bit of a scoring drought with just two baskets over a five minute stretch, but a free throw and jumper by Harrison and a jumper by Walker-Kimbrough kept Maryland's lead at 20 going to the under eight minute media timeout.
The Terps struggled a bit guarding the very quick Spann who scored on a reverse layup that brought the Lions within 18. After a jumper by Brene Moseley pushed the Terrapins lead back to 20, the Lady Lions took advantage of Maryland coach Brenda Frese's small lineup experiment. The Lions gathered offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions -- including on a missed free throw -- that eventually drew Penn State within 16.
Pfirman's short jumper and a pair of free throws by Kiara Leslie put the Terps back in front by 20. Brown registered her 10th assist of the night with a perfect bounce pass to Pfirman who was open under the basket for an easy layup. Maryland's lead was 72-52 at the final media timeout.
Coming out of that break, Frese was able to rest her starters finishing the game with Aja Ellison, Leslie, Kristen Confroy, Chloe Pavlech, and Pfirman on the floor for most of that segment before calling a timeout to send Harrison back in for Pfirman with just less than a minute to play. The Lions scored late against this makeshift lineup to make the final score a deceptively close 77-62.
Walker-Kimbrough finished with 21 points for the Terps and was joined in double figures by Mincy's 11. The Terps out rebounded the Lions by five, led by 11 from Brionna Jones. Although they turned the ball over 18 times, Maryland finished with 22 assists on 31 made baskets and shot nearly 51 percent for the game.
The Terps (20-2, 11-0) return home for a top-20 rematch with Nebraska, a squad playing much better than the one Maryland beat 75-47 in Lincoln earlier this season. Tip-off for Sunday's game is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. and the Terps will honor Hall of Fame coach Chris Weller with a banner in the rafters.
Sunday will also be Team Tyler Day. The Team Tyler Foundation was created when Frese's son Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago. Several organizations will be present at the Xfinity Center including There Goes My Hero, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Zachary Hebda Foundation.
Note: Maryland's win tonight marks the 11th consecutive season with 20 or more wins for Maryland under head coach Brenda Frese.