Playing as shorthanded as it has been all season, No. 2 Maryland women’s basketball would struggle with the behemoth of No. 5 NC State in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving.
With only 23 seconds left in the first half, graduate student guard Raina Perez drilled a three-pointer, responding to sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese’s layup to bring NC State’s lead back to 20. On the next Maryland offensive possession, All-American center Elissa Cunane committed a foul, sending freshman guard Shyanne Sellers to the line.
Sellers had been solid with two three-point makes on the day and had a chance to stop the bleeding heading into the locker room at halftime. It continued to go south for the Terps, though, as Sellers missed both free throws. Heading down the other way was NC State, as junior forward Jada Boyd corralled the rebound. Sophomore guard Diamond Johnson flicked in the close layup with four seconds to play in the half, and the damage was done.
The ending to the first half encapsulated the type of day it was for both top-five teams, one nearly perfect and one a disaster. The Wolfpack used a balanced scoring attack to blow past Maryland, 78-60.
“I thought the first half they punched first,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “They were very, very aggressive, I think it put us on our heels. I mean, there’s no question how good NC State is. Just such a deep team and obviously, for us to come in here without five players and two that are starters for us, I love the fact, given what we didn't have, of just the fight that we had in the second half.”
The Terps were dealing with a thin rotation yet again. Graduate student guard and sharpshooter Katie Benzan along with junior guard/forward Faith Masonius did not make the trip to the Bahamas, as they each deal with illnesses. To make matters worse, star junior guard Diamond Miller was ruled out with her lingering knee injury, which she has been considered day-to-day with pretty much all season.
Just over one minute into the game, graduate student guard Chloe Bibby got Maryland on the board first with a pull-up three-pointer from the wing. Cunane responded with a second-chance lay-up on the ensuing Wolfpack possession to make it 3-2.
Cunane’s first bucket would only start a massive run for the Wolfpack and extend a big drought for the Terps. NC State scored nine straight points following by Bibby’s three, powered by Cunane’s early four second-chance points. Maryland would have a scoring drought that lasted about four minutes, but Sellers came out of the first quarter media timeout to drill a much-needed three-pointer from the wing.
Sellers hit another deep triple from the wing to keep Maryland in it early, but that would be as much as Maryland could do for the majority of the first frame. NC State rattled off another big run, this time a 7-0 spurt to bring its lead to 18-9. Boyd put in a tough and-one as part of the run, which allowed the Wolfpack to open up a sizable first-quarter gap.
To pile onto the damage, Perez blew by the Maryland defense for a layup at the buzzer. After 10 minutes, Maryland trailed 22-12, and it was only shooting 25% from the field.
Perez hit a three to start the second quarter, pushing NC State’s lead to 13. Maryland answered with two takeaways and layups from junior guard Ashley Owusu and Reese, respectively, to cut the deficit to nine, but the Wolfpack just kept on coming.
By the halfway mark of the second quarter, the Wolfpack were doubling up the Terps, 34-17. NC State used an 11-1 run smack dab in the middle of the second quarter to tighten its grip on the game, and with every Maryland make, it seemed like the Wolfpack had a response.
Bibby and Reese sunk consecutive layups to cut the lead to 36-21 with about four minutes left in the half, but junior wing Jakia Brown-Turner punched back with a layup.
“I was just trying to give it my all, all I could give...whatever’s coming to me,” Reese said. “I mean, my girls had my back...so right now [we’re] just trying to fight. I mean, my points came from everybody else passing to me, I can’t do it without them.”
Any momentum the Terps could garner was squashed, and the Wolfpack ended the half on an 11-6 stretch. Johnson’s half-ending deuce brought the NC State halftime lead to 49-27.
The difference between the teams at half? Shooting. NC State was nailing practically everything through 20 minutes, sitting at 61.1% from the field, while Maryland was only making 36.7% of its shots.
Cunane commenced the scoring in the third quarter, hitting a jumper to balloon the Wolfpack lead to a game-high 24 points.
The Maryland defense began to tighten up, holding NC State without a field goal for over two minutes. It allowed the Terps to go on a 7-0 run of their own, but graduate student forward Kayla Jones quieted Maryland with a powerful layup inside.
Owusu kept the Terps alive with a strong third quarter, but there was not much the Terps could do against a fellow top-five opponent with a huge lead. Cunane grabbed her fifth offensive rebound for a putback layup in the final minutes of the quarter, bringing her to a quiet 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting. NC State led 67-46 at the end of the third, and this one was all but officially over.
Reese hit a three at the beginning of the fourth quarter. She had an extremely efficient offensive game against another All-American, scoring 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. If anything positive could be taken from Thursday, it is that Reese continues to produce regardless of the opposition.
“She’s just a tough and aggressive player,” Cunane said of Reese. “She wants to get to the boards, she finishes well. She gets [offensive] boards, which was a big focus for us to just not let her get a second shot, which we ended up doing a couple times and she capitalized on it, so she’s just a force down low. So it’s a really good matchup.”
The Wolfpack bench took advantage of Frese’s minuscule rotation, outscoring Maryland’s bench, which only consisted of sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova and freshman forward Emma Chardon, 30-0.
“For Tai to play 24 minutes, who’s typically been around two to five minutes for us, we’re asking a lot for her when we get into foul trouble,” Frese said. “You saw late game, Ashley was cramping. So, it’s difficult. You’re not making excuses for yourself, it’s the situation we’re in and no one’s gonna feel sorry for us, we’ve just got to find a way.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland was ice cold out of the gates, setting the tone for the game. Bibby hit the three off the dribble to open the floodgates, but Maryland had a difficult time getting the wheels rolling in the first quarter. The Terps made only a quarter of their shots in the first ten minutes, and their star Owusu was only 1-for-6 from the field in the frame. It was a game where the Terps could have used a couple of opening threes from Benzan to establish a quick start, but they could only work with the seven players they had.
“I mean, they’re a top-five team for a reason,” Frese said. “So you can’t come out and have a slow start, you can’t come out and have inconsistent play, which is, we had a lot of inconsistent play for the 40 minutes.”
2. Ashley Owusu was not herself early but made an impact in the second half. Owusu could not get her legs underneath her against the Wolfpack in the first half. Maryland’s do-everything superstar dominated against then-No. 6 Baylor, getting anything she wanted with a head of steam downhill, creating opportunities for herself and her teammates. That same dominance was portrayed in the third quarter, as she had nine third-quarter points before the media timeout. However, there was not much Owusu could do with the result in NC State’s hands for the majority of the game.
3. A 20-point plus comeback would be difficult as is but nearly impossible with a seven-player roster. Maryland showed heart in the face of adversity, but it was too little, too late. Maryland was nowhere near perfect in the first half, but who can blame them. Missing three key rotation players, including two All-Big Ten caliber players, in another country would make a 24-point second-half comeback a gargantuan task. The Terps have a chance to redeem themselves against No. 7 Stanford on Saturday. It will be the Cardinal’s third game in three days.
“I think when you’re in coaching long enough, you have different seasons,” Frese said of the unique roster situation. I mean, we’ve had a season where, when it was Alyssa Thomas’ era, we had three kids go down and we were actually playing with six and the sixth player was a walk-on. So we’ve been in these situations before, it’s allowed us as a staff to be very smart and efficient with how we practice and how we utilize our team. So unfortunately, no, I’ve been in this situation before.”