Winning by 22 in a game Penn State never had much of a chance from the get-go, No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball was searching for the exclamation point to cap off an emphatic first half.
There was an extended Terps’ 10-0 run, a 28-14 points in the paint advantage and 15 Maryland points off 12 first-half turnovers from Penn State in the first 20 minutes. But, it was a dagger by junior guard Ashley Owusu — her second buzzer-beating shot in two quarters — that sent Maryland to the locker room with over 50 points and a 25-point halftime lead.
With less than 30 seconds to play in the first half and the shot clock turned off, Owusu was dribbling around the perimeter, looking to secure the final shot of the half for Maryland. With a few seconds remaining, Owusu dumped it off to graduate student guard Katie Benzan. Benzan dished it right back to Owusu, who nailed a triple from the wing in the half’s last shot attempt.
Through two quarters of play, Maryland held a 53-28 lead. Owusu, who snapped out of a slump and finished with 20 points, helped Maryland cruise to a 106-78 victory. Junior guard Diamond Miller also recorded 24 points, while sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese recorded her ninth double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
“I thought it was a terrific response, obviously, from our team,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought they set the tone on both ends of floor to start the game. I loved our aggressiveness, I think we forced them into about seven turnovers there in the first quarter, setting the tone really, really aggressively.”
Thursday was Maryland’s first game since junior guard/forward Faith Masonius went down with a season-ending ACL tear, bringing the Terps down to only seven usual rotation players. Fellow junior guard Diamond Miller — who has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury — was back in the starting lineup, though, after scoring 17 points at Indiana this past Sunday.
However, the Lady Lions were missing a key player, as well. Sophomore forward Ali Brigham, Penn State’s second-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, was not available for Thursday’s game, a Penn State team spokesperson confirmed.
Penn State, coming off a 19-day break, looked a bit sluggish to start, as Maryland won the opening tip and raced out to a quick 10-2 lead. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese, despite missing her first four shots, put the other facets of her game on full display. By the first media timeout, Reese had already grabbed five boards — three of which were offensive — and dished out two assists.
It became apparent early that the Lady Lions were overmatched. Maryland, in the midst of an 8-0 run, forced head coach Carolyn Kieger to burn her first timeout with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter. However, it could only do so much. Junior guard Ashley Owusu casually rattled home a stepback jumper at the first-quarter buzzer, bringing Maryland’s lead to 26-11 through 10 minutes.
“Yeah, no question,” said Frese on if Maryland’s effort was intensified compared to Sunday. “I mean, it starts with our defense. I thought we set the tone right away, we were really aggressive and in the passing lanes. And then I thought offensively, I mean, we really pushed tempo, we were really unselfish moving the basketball and that’s really what Maryland basketball looks like.”
The Terps were just dominant inside, holding a 22-6 points in the paint advantage after one quarter. Reese was grabbing every rebound in sight, totaling nine rebounds in the first period. Miller was electric with 10 first-quarter points and Owusu looked like herself with eight of her own in the frame. Simply put, Maryland was firing on all cylinders.
The Lady Lions recovered some momentum with a 7-2 spurt to start the second quarter, but it mattered little with Maryland in control. With a little more than six minutes to play before halftime, freshman guard Shyanne Sellers stepped in and swished a three-pointer, bringing Maryland’s lead to 37-20.
A layup by junior guard Shay Hagans cut Maryland’s lead to 37-22 about halfway through the second quarter, but the Terps immediately ripped off a 10-0 run that lasted nearly four minutes.
The highlights of the run included offensive flashes like a Miller — who switched into a jersey labeled No. 30 — three-pointer, but it was Maryland’s flawless defense over the stretch that was more impressive. Reese showed her defensive prowess with about three minutes to play in the half, blocking Penn State’s junior star guard Makenna Marisa’s jump shots not once, but twice.
Owusu’s half-ending three was just the icing on the cake, and she and Miller each had 15 points at halftime.
Penn State did its best to stick around in the third quarter, but Maryland was just too much to handle. The Terps went on another big run on the flip side of the media timeout, this time a 9-0 run, to bring its lead to 77-44 with a few minutes to play in the third quarter.
Frese was able to rest some of her stars as the game went on, inserting sparingly used sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova and freshman forward Emma Chardon into the game for some Big Ten minutes.
Maryland held an 81-50 lead after three quarters and looked every bit of the part of the preseason Big Ten favorites.
With 3:02 remaining, the Terps cracked 100 points on a layup from Miller. It was Maryland’s second time in triple-digits this season, with the other coming on Nov. 19 against UNC Wilmington.
Though Penn State fell to 7-6 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play, Marisa, the nation’s ninth-leading scorer before the game, shined with 29 points.
“Honestly, what’s crazy is I don’t think Makenna played a very good game at all for her standards and was still able to drop 29 points,” Kieger said. “I think Maryland did a phenomenal job that first half really disrupting her and kind of getting in her head a little bit.”
Three things to know
1. Ashley Owusu snapped out of her slump in fashion. The previous three games before Thursday, Maryland fans did not see the Owusu they were familiar with. She shot 10-of-41 in that span and turned the ball over seven times against Indiana. Owusu turned the narrative against the Lady Lions, though, shooting 8-of-13 from the field and handing out five assists. She was poised and confident, playing like the star point guard Maryland needs to have long-term success.
“It felt good, like everyone’s been saying,” Owusu said. “I think I can speak for my team, I think we just came out and had fun... Like Coach said, we did well and did what we had to do on the defensive end which correlated to our offense.”
2. Diamond Miller made her first start of the 2021-22 season and was outstanding. Miller is such an electric player on both sides of the floor, and her impact is almost indescribable. It will take some time for the Terps to learn to play with Miller again, but she adds another element of star power to Maryland that was missing during her 10-game absence. Miller not only lit it up with her scoring total but more importantly showed glimpses of the standard the Terps can reach with her imposing her will.
“I just wanted to play basketball as hard as I can,” Miller said. “Obviously it’s shown that injuries could take away the game within a second. I’ve been dealing with a lot of injuries this season, so it’s just fun to be out there and I want to give my best every time I step on the court.”
3. The Maryland offensive machine has not gone anywhere. In the 2020-21 season, the Terps led the nation in scoring with 90.8 points per game. This season’s offense, albeit with an outstanding clip of 81.4 points per game coming into Thursday, has seen its production take about a 10-point dip. This was not the case against Penn State, as Maryland scored 106 points, shooting 55% overall and 48% from distance. Maryland established a significant paint presence, but also scored 26 points off 20 Lady Lions’ turnovers, an incredible sign of turning offense into defense.
“Great start in the right direction, no question,” Frese said. “I thought we look a little bit more like ourselves and is fun to watch, fun style of play. Everybody was able to share the basketball and make easy plays for one another.”