On a day when they honored Hall of Fame coach Chris Weller and played in front of 10,937, their largest home crowd of the season, the Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team struggled with the stern defense of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but the Terps' depth and talent eventually came through in a 59-47 win.
"It was a special day for us on so many levels," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. "I told them that before the game -- to have the number of alumni that we had back, to be able to unveil the banner for Chris Weller which is long overdue given everything she's meant to the program. Team Tyler day, obviously personally, but now knowing that one of our manager's brothers has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was personal on so many levels. It's really cool that you get to play the game of basketball and have an impact on so many people."
First half - Bombs away and turnovers
If Nebraska could have written a script for the first half of Sunday's game with Maryland, it would have likely looked very much like the first half the two teams played. The pace was slow, Maryland had 10 turnovers in the game's first 12 minutes, and between the two teams, 18 of the first 35 shots came from three-point range. "Obviously, a really slow start for us," Frese said. "Credit Nebraska in terms of how they came out and their sagging defense and denying our players on the wings. Obviously we didn't help ourselves with our turnovers."
The Terps chose to attack the zone from the outside on their first possession and repeated that after an offensive rebound by Brionna Jones. The Terps finished that exchange missing both shots. Nebraska's Tear'a Laudermill, who would need to carry the scoring load for the Cornhuskers with Rachel Theriot still sidelined by an ankle injury, made a three-point jumper as the shot clock ran down on Nebraska's initial possession.
Maryland started working the ball inside, but failed to develop any real offensive rhythm because of the plethora of turnovers. They would finish the half with 13. Meanwhile, the visitors continued to run nearly every possession deep into the shot clock, often finishing with a shot from long distance. Nearly 45 percent of their first-half shots came from beyond the arc and they connected on 4-of-14.
Because Maryland was not running their offense with its usual efficiency, these long-distance shots kept Nebraska close throughout the half. The Terps opened their largest lead of the half at 15-8 on a three pointer by Lexie Brown with just less than 10 minutes to play. But the Cornhuskers, aided by the Terrapins' turnovers and some poor shooting, went on a 14-6 run to retake the lead at 22-21.
The Terps responded with a run of their own over the final four and a half minutes with four baskets coming from four different players. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (4), Kiara Leslie (2), Malilna Howard (6), and Lexie Brown (5) each scored a bucket for Maryland as the Terps took a 29-24 lead into the break.
Second half - Scoring droughts
In spite of having a turnover on their first possession, it came on an effort to get the ball inside. The Terrapins continued those efforts and got off to a quick start to open the second stanza. Howard scored on a layup early and Jones picked up two free throws. When Howard made another layup on an offensive rebound that extended Maryland's lead to 35-26 two minutes into the half, Cornhuskers' coach Connie Yori had to call a timeout.
The strategy settled her team and, although Maryland was able to nudge the lead to 10 with 14:07 to play, the lead stood at only eight as the teams went to the under 12 minute media timeout. After working to get the ball inside early in the half, the Terps again began to settle for jump shots. At one point, Maryland missed nine consecutive shots -- ended by Brown's three pointer -- and made only 2-of-15. Both coaches cited this basket as a key point in the contest. Fortunately for Terps' fans, Nebraska wasn't much better but the Cornhuskers were still able to chip away at the lead and trailed only 43-37 with seven and a half minutes remaining.
Brown followed her three pointer with a short baseline jumper on a possession that featured two Terps' offensive rebounds. Jones picked up another offensive rebound, her ninth of the game, on Maryland's next possession and scored on the put back to extend the Terrapins run to 7-0 and prompted another timeout by Yori.
The Terps got a defensive stop out of the timeout and two free throws by Mincy quickly followed by a Cornhuskers' turnover and a short jumper by Brown coming off a curl into the lane. The run ended at 11-0, but Maryland had their largest lead of the day at 17. With Nebraska going to the line for a possible three-point play, Maryland led 54-39 as the clock ticked under four minutes.
With a comfortable lead, Maryland was content to use the clock and Frese, perhaps with an eye to the future had freshmen A'Lexus Harrison and Kiara Leslie on the floor for the game's closing minutes. With about two minutes to play, fellow freshmen Kristin Confroy and Aja Ellison took the floor for the Terps who closed out the 59-47 win.
The Terps finished with three players in double figures, led by Brown's 14. She was joined by Howard and Jones who each added a dozen. Jones had a team-high nine rebounds for Maryland who finished with a relatively slender 41-36 edge on the boards.The Terps did a much better job protecting the ball in the second half, finishing the game with 16 turnovers, after turning it over 13 times in the first half.
Life gets no easier for Maryland. The Terps will face an even sterner defensive test when they close out the span of four games in nine days when they host 21st-ranked Rutgers Tuesday night.