The Big Ten/ACC Challenge was exactly that for No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball on Thursday night: a challenge.
The Terps and the Hurricanes were exchanging buckets all night long, and neither team was able to completely establish its grip on the game until the final two minutes.
With the game tied at 72 and only 80 seconds to play, graduate student guard Katie Benzan fed sophomore guard/forward Angel Reese down low for an opportunity for two. Reese used her strength for a layup plus the foul, but she missed the foul shot. There to bring down the offensive rebound was junior guard/forward Faith Masonius, keeping the possession alive. Masonius kicked the ball out to Benzan on the wing, and the reliable sharpshooter sent it through the nylon for three points.
On a night where she had returned to the lineup and had not done much until that point, Benzan came through for the much-needed assist and the clutch three-pointer. Maryland got the stops it needed and made its timely free-throws, pulling away for the 82-74 victory on Thursday night in College Park.
“We really missed Katie and Faith’s heart and hustle,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “It’s a team, and I thought there were some huge plays where [Katie’s] always on the floor diving for loose balls because she’s that competitive and isn’t gonna allow her opponent to get that possession. And that three was huge, it gave us kind of a little bit of breathing room to be able to separate, so it was a big play.”
Benzan — the nation’s best three-point shooter from last season — was welcomed back into the Terps’ starting lineup after a three-game absence due to illness. Masonius, the typical “sixth man” for the Terps, also returned to the lineup following a five-game illness hiatus of her own. Junior guard Diamond Miller remained out; she is still considered day-to-day with a knee injury.
The Terps won the tip and the often seen Benzan three-pointer to start the game was drawn up but rolled around the rim and out.
Miami opened up with some pressure, trying to speed up the Terps and create turnovers off any dead ball opportunity. It worked early, as senior guard Karla Erjavec stole the ball off the inbound pass and went in for the easy layup to give the Hurricanes a quick 8-4 lead about three and a half minutes in.
“It was tough,” junior guard Ashley Owusu said of Miami’s press. “I think number 12 [Ja’Leah Williams], she guarded me basically the whole game, picked me up full court, but just making sure, you know, keeping my head up and being focused and not letting her get the steal.”
The Terps were trailing 11-6 by the first media timeout, but Frese had already gone seven deep into her bench, matching the extended rotation from the team’s Bahamas trip.
Maryland tied the score at 13 and then 15 apiece, but Miami was successful driving toward the basket in the first quarter, evident by its 10 first-quarter points in the paint. Owusu answered freshman guard Lashae Dwyer’s burst, after she beat Masonius off the dribble, for and-one with a floater in the paint, cutting the Miami lead to 18-17 after 10 minutes.
To start the second quarter, the Terps exploded for an 11-3 run. Reese corralled two offensive rebounds for a couple of second-chance layups, while freshman guard Shyanne Sellers drilled a three from the left corner to bring Maryland’s lead to 28-21 with just less than six minutes to play in the quarter, forcing a Miami timeout.
Miami refused to fade, though, answering with five straight points out of the timeout and eventually evening the game at 31 with a triple from the wing off the hand of graduate student guard Kelsey Marshall. The sequence led to Frese using a timeout as her team was in a dogfight for about 18 minutes.
The two teams traded blows to end the half, and the score was ultimately tied at 36 at halftime. The Hurricanes had no answer for Reese in the first 20 minutes, as her 13 points led all scorers. However, Miami was lighting it up from three, shooting 50% from beyond the arc at halftime, and forced nine Maryland turnovers in the first half.
Miami quickly took a 39-38 lead less than a minute into the third quarter, but Maryland rattled off a quick 6-0 run. Reese kept the ball high for an easy lay-in and secured an offensive board on the next offensive set, but an eye contact issue forced Masonius to the charity stripe, where she made both. Owusu was too strong and earned two free throws, both of which she made, to wrap up the 6-0 run, extending the Maryland lead to 44-39.
But, Miami refused to go away, getting the score back to 45-45 after a layup from guard Ja’Leah Williams. Miami jumped back in front again, 48-47, with an Erjavec three-pointer, and Reese answered with a jumper to give the Terps a 49-48 lead at the third-quarter media timeout.
With the game tied 53-53 with about three minutes to play in the third, a pressuring Williams stole the ball from a slipping Benzan at mid-court and took it herself for a layup. Sellers fought back with an offensive rebound and a tough fall-away shot on the other end, but Erjavec scored another layup to retake the lead for Miami.
Benzan scored her first points of the game with two free-throw makes with 56 seconds left in the third to tie the game at 57, but Miami again had an answer with a Marshall three-pointer. Masonius had a second-chance layup with four seconds left in the quarter to cut the deficit to one, but Maryland found itself trailing 60-59 through three quarters.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Owusu nailed a mid-range jumper to bring her to a game-high 19 points and give the Terps a 61-60 lead. It seemed Maryland would gain a spark right there with a Masonius steal on the press, but she left the layup short, and Miami settled down once again.
The Hurricanes led 65-62 after two makes at the line from Dwyer, and the Terps were officially in danger. Graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby hit a layup to cut the lead to one again, but it was clear at this point that Maryland would have to play from behind until something changed.
Reese grabbed an offensive rebound, her eighth of the day and 13th overall, and powered the ball back up to bring Miami’s lead down from three to one at 67-66. The Terps nearly forced a 10-second violation with the press, but Miami coach Katie Meier smartly called timeout with one second to spare.
After a major reversed charge call by the officials with about four and a half minutes to play, Bibby hit one of two free throws to even the score back at 67.
An Owusu mid-range jumper and a beautiful head-fake led by Benzan leading to a layup provided a mini 4-0 Maryland spurt, but a wide-open Erjavec three cut Maryland’s advantage to 71-70 and silenced the Xfinity Center crowd.
Marshall traded two free throws for Owusu’s one to tie the game at 72 with just two minutes in regulation.
The 5-0 stretch featuring Reese’s layup and Benzan’s three-pointer electrified the crowd and put Maryland in the lead for good.
Marshall answered Benzan’s sequence with two free throws, but Reese made two clutch ones on for Maryland, as well. After Marshall air-balled a three-point attempt on the next Miami possession, the Hurricanes would have to play the fouling game as they trailed by three with less than 45 seconds to play.
“Just a tremendous battle,” Frese said. “I thought we showed a lot of grit and resiliency there in the fourth quarter. We knew what to expect, obviously. These battles that we’ve had in the past with Miami, knew they were going to come in here really well-coached.”
Reese made one of two free throws, but Maryland got another stop. Benzan was then fouled and went two-of-two from the line, icing the game with an eight-point lead.
Reese’s double-double of 26 points and 15 rebounds led Maryland, as it pulled away late to improve to 7-2 on the season.
“Angel with the monster game,” Frese said. “Career-high in points and rebounds, and we needed every single one of them.”
Three things to know
1. Miami pressed the Terps on any opportunity it could get, and Maryland did not take care of the ball. Last season, Maryland led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio while also pacing it in scoring. Tempo is certainly not something that the Terps shy away from, but the Hurricanes’ pressure affected them in the first 20 minutes. Maryland’s nine first-half turnovers were just shy of its 10 turnovers per game season average. Not much changed for Maryland in the second either, ending the day with 16 turnovers.
“Well, I mean, it was extremely effective, but honestly it needed to be more than 16 [turnovers],” Meier said. “I mean, if we’re giving all that energy, I mean, that’s where I think you got Owusu who just can control the game.”
2. Reinforcements arrived for Maryland. The Terps’ rotation was paper-thin in the Bahamas with only seven healthy players. Two of them, sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova and freshman forward Emma Chardon, are players that Frese would normally have on the outside looking in but were forced into action against elite teams. Neither Kozlova nor Chardon made appearances in the first half with Frese sticking to her typical seven-player rotation seen at the beginning of the season. Benzan and Masonius are not only huge talent boosts to the lineup, but more importantly improve Maryland’s depth when it needed it most.
3. The Hurricanes were lethal from the perimeter. While Maryland was unable to pull away from the unranked Hurricanes throughout the entirety of the game, it was Miami who seemingly always had the answer, oftentimes from distance. Miami was 8-of-15 on three-pointers after 30 minutes, absolutely dicing up the Terps from deep and possessing the lead. Fortunately for Maryland, it only allowed one Miami three-pointer in the fourth, helping secure the triumph.