Maryland women’s basketball would barely struggle with Division II Fairmont State in Friday night’s exhibition tilt, but the nation’s highest-scoring offense from a season ago had to put on a show in front of its fans.
Graduate student guard Katie Benzan launched a three from the right wing just over two minutes in to break the ice. Splash. About one minute later, she let one go from the left wing. Another one. Benzan — who led the NCAA in three-point percentage last year — shot the Terps to a fast start.
Maryland was soon up 14-0, holding the Fighting Falcons without a bucket for the first seven minutes and change. Benzan’s 22 points powered the Terps to a blowout 120-67 win.
“A lot of positives to be able to see,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I mean obviously, you can just continue to see just our unselfishness and how we share the basketball, how we can really score the basketball.”
It was not until there were about two and a half minutes left in the first quarter that Fairmont State got on the board. Redshirt senior forward Sierra Kotchman caught fire, draining four threes to end the quarter, including one at the horn. Kotchman — who has been named to the All-Mountain East Conference First Team three times in her career, singlehandedly kept it from being a blowout of massive proportions early on.
Kotchman was sensational, but the Falcons could only stick with the Terps for so long. Maryland extended its lead to 21 powered by Benzan, who made her fifth three of the game about halfway through the second quarter, bringing her to 17 points on the night.
Fairmont State really struggled to end the half, only making one field goal, a three-pointer by redshirt senior guard Kamrin Weimer, in the last five minutes of the frame. One of the differences for the Terps in the second quarter was sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova. The Russia native had nine points at halftime, all in the second quarter.
Through 20 minutes, Maryland led 53-28, officially putting it out of distance. Maryland probably would have liked to be smoother on the offensive end, turning the ball over eight times in the first half. On the other side of the ball though, Maryland was rock solid, forcing 13 Falcon turnovers. Benzan was the Terps’ only double-digit scorer at halftime, remaining with 17 points.
After sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese sunk a free throw over a couple of minutes into the third quarter, the Terps broke out a press for the first time. It worked to perfection, as Katie Benzan stole the inbound pass and laid it in.
Though it only pressed for that one series, Maryland piled on even more momentum. Benzan hit her sixth three about 30 seconds later, allowing Maryland to double the Falcons’ score with a 64-32 lead.
With a little bit over four minutes to play in the third, it was clear Reese was taking over. She powered through for a lay-up plus the foul, converting on the old-fashioned three-point play. Reese got to the line seven times alone in the third quarter, as Fairmont State did not have the size nor talent to contain her. She then passed on a mid-range jumper a couple of offensive sequences later, making a smart play to feed Kozlova for a wide-open layup.
“With the insane depth that we have, we’re all huge,” junior guard/forward Faith Masonius said. “I mean, especially compared to that team tonight, we’re huge.”
Maryland used a 12-0 run, backed by freshman guard Shyanne Sellers commanding the offense and strong play by redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins in the paint, to end the third quarter. Sophomore guard/forward Alyssa DeAngelo hit a three at the horn to end the run, but that was all it did. Maryland was in cruise control, leading 91-53 at the end of the third quarter.
The Terps cracked the 100-point mark with about six minutes left to play on a Sellers’ made free throw. Sellers converted on a bucket and got the foul call halfway through the fourth, but she went down hard, staying on the ground for a few moments. She hobbled off the floor and was standing on the bench, ultimately returning to the game.
Sellers’ freshman counterpart, forward Emma Chardon, was solid in the fourth, registering eight points and three rebounds.
The Terps, led by their bench, closed out their first of two exhibitions with a dominant 29-14 fourth quarter.
“It was great to just get everyone in there, right, to get the jitters out, to be in front of fans,” Frese said. “We can’t say it enough, how grateful we are to finally play a game in front of fans. It’s been over 600-plus days, and we were excited to be able to get out tonight and play for our fans.”
Three things to know
1. Katie Benzan was on fire. Playing in front of the Terps’ faithful at Xfinity Center for the first time, Benzan was lights out. The former Harvard transfer was not only Maryland’s best shooter but the best three-point shooter in the nation last season at 50% from distance. Maryland did not play in front of fans last season due to the coronavirus pandemic but welcomed them back Friday for the first time in over 600 days. Benzan did not disappoint them, finishing 6-for-8 from three.
“It was a lot of fun,” Benzan said. “As coach said, we had a little but of butterflies, but as the season goes on, I think it’ll be just even better to play in front of that crowd.”
2. Even though it was against a Division II opponent, Maryland’s offense was as electric as always. The Terps led the nation with 90.1 points per game in 2020-21 and come into this season with the same, if not higher, expectations, returning virtually everyone from last season’s roster. Even though it was an exhibition against a lesser opponent, the Terps offense put up points in numbers. Maryland’s 120 points were good for 30 points per quarter. In addition to Benzan, Reese, Kozlova, Sellers and Owusu all scored in double figures.
3. Shyanne Sellers was active in her Maryland debut. With star junior guard Diamond Miller not dressing for Friday’s exhibition, Sellers would have to take on a big responsibility against Fairmont State. ESPN’s No. 22 recruit in the Class of 2021 played point guard for much of the second half and totaled 26 minutes of playing time. She finished with 15 points, five assists and five turnovers. Stats should be taken lightly in an exhibition, but Sellers undoubtedly got important reps leading the Terps’ offense in real game time.
“Obviously she’s incredibly talented, you can see what a special player she is,” Frese said. “I like that she’s fearless. Right now, she’s really confident and wants to make the big play...it’s easy to coach her. She wants to be great. She wants to help this team in anyway possible.”