For the third straight game, No. 8 Maryland had a less-than-convincing win over Purdue on Wednesday. The team’s 15-point victory over Big Ten rival Purdue belies how close the game was; until 6:25 in the fourth quarter, it was a six-point match.
And while the Terps led for over 25 minutes, there were a total of six lead changes. What’s more, the Boilermakers, thanks to red-hot three-point shooting in the first half, kept pace with a top-10 team for most of the evening.
However, the home team pulled away in the fourth, thanks in part to guard Ashley Owusu’s eight-point, four-rebound, two-assist masterclass in the final quarter.
“I think it just means that we’re diverse, and we can play fast and then slow it down,” Owusu said of her team’s ability to adjust the pace of the game. “I think that is very useful going into the season. Just playing with pace and all when you need to, do transitional when you need to take a step back.”
Maryland doesn’t play again until Sunday when the team travels down to Columbia to face No. 1 South Carolina. The Terps have their final nonconference game after the trip down south — an away contest at Coppin State on Dec. 21 — before a daunting, two-month slog of conference matches.
Here are several takeaways from the matchup with Purdue.
Maryland’s awareness on defense propelled it to a win.
Maryland set the tone on defense early and often. Within the first minute of play, the No. 8 team in the nation snagged two steals, a trend they would continue throughout the game. As a defensive unit, the Terps finished Wednesday’s affair with 10 steals, part of the team’s 34 points off of turnovers.
Perhaps the peskiest player on the defensive end was graduate guard Katie Benzan, generally known for her three-point marksmanship. Against Purdue, the Harvard transfer had three steals with 15 points and six assists.
“This past couple days in practice, we want to disrupt for 40 minutes, and I took that to heart,” Benzan said. “I want to do everything I can on the defensive end to make Purdue and all of our opponents uncomfortable. Today, it just showed up in three steals, but just getting my hands on anything, or being in the help side, just doing whatever for my teammates.”
In the second half, Maryland’s defense was excellent. Even though it was trailing going into the final 30 minutes, holding Purdue to just 31 second-half points was the difference-maker. The defense around the perimeter was also very impressive from the Terps’ side. Purdue was just 4-for-19 from long range in the second half.
The Boilermakers finished with a whopping 23 turnovers on the night.
The Terps’ ability to rebound helped it close out the Boilermakers.
Maryland is a team used to breaking the norm, and on Wednesday night at Xfinity Center, it was accomplished on the offensive glass; the Terps finished the game with more offensive rebounds, 23, than defensive rebounds, 19.
Chloe Bibby and Mimi Collins had five offensive boards apiece, Owusu had four, and Faith Masonius and Angel Reese both contributed three. Maryland also outrebounded Purdue 42-31 en route to 21 second-chance points.
Purdue had just 12 offense rebounds after 40 minutes of play.
“When we could get to the glass like that, both [Chloe] and Mimi getting five o-boards,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the game. “I thought we needed every one of Ashley’s nine o-boards that she was able to get. Chloe was very patient within the game and let the game come to her. I thought our plays were big when we needed them.”
Even though Maryland finished the first half down a few points, it still got the job done on the board, out-rebounding Purdue 21-16. A nearly identical rebounding margin in the second-half was a big reason as to why Maryland pulled it together and eventually ran away with it on the scoreboard.
Now on a three-gaming winning streak, Maryland will have its toughest test coming up.
After taking a 9-2 lead, Maryland allowed Purdue back in the game, with the visitors holding the lead after the first period and eventually into halftime. Frese and her players know that can't happen on Sunday when they take on No. 1 South Carolina.
“If we play half like that, that’ll easily be a 30-point spread,” Frese said. “So we’ve got to come out and sustain it. We came out with a great punch, but then we allowed them back in the game and didn’t sustain it.”
The Terps are a team that can compensate for mistakes, such as the 13 turnovers committed against the Boilermakers. However, against the No. 1 team in the nation — South Carolina is undefeated with wins against talented teams like NC State and UConn — mistakes will be punished.
“Gotta be able to learn through that quickly and be able to come out,” Frese said. “[It] won’t be hard to inspire these guys. But again, it takes a level with [South Carolina’s] depth that we’re gonna have to play at a really, really high level.”
“We want to show that we’re a top-10 team and that we deserve to be in that conversation and that starts on Sunday with our intensity,” Benzan said.
Maryland’s game against South Carolina will come on the road. After that matchup and a meeting with Coppin State, the Terps’ rigorous Big Ten schedule really gets underway. It’ll be a difficult road ahead for Maryland, and it all starts with No. 1 South Carolina this upcoming weekend.