Facing more adversity Thursday night after losing junior guard Ashley Owusu to injury in the first quarter, No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball found itself in a single-digit battle down the stretch.
Leading 64-62 with less than one minute to play, Maryland had possession and a chance to ice the game.
With the ball on the wing, freshman guard Shyanne Sellers fed sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese in the post, who had great position on Michigan State’s redshirt senior forward Alisia Smith. Reese put a move on Smith, spinning in the post and banking in a layup to give Maryland the 66-62 lead with 26 seconds remaining.
Reese now had 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting and was the most consistent player on the floor all night long.
Junior forward Taiyier Parks was rewarded two free throws on the other end with six seconds left, but missed both, sealing the victory for the Terps.
Reese finished with a game-high 25 points, and Maryland needed each one of them. Without their point guard, the Terps held on for an impressive 67-62 road win, moving to 16-6 on the season and 8-3 in the Big Ten.
“We spent a lot of time talking about February frenzy and it being a new month,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I just saw, just great toughness by this team, tenacity. You talk about adversity we face coming in the day of the game, losing Ashley in the second quarter. And I thought we grew as a team on both ends of the floor.”
The Terps dealt with some travel issues en route to East Lansing, Michigan. Wednesday’s flight to Michigan State was canceled due to inclement weather, but Maryland was fortunately able to fly out Thursday morning.
Maryland wasted no time stuffing the stat sheet on the offensive end, racing out to a 15-8 lead before the first media timeout. Reese was imposing early, scoring seven first-quarter points and grabbing two offensive rebounds. Owusu did a spectacular job making plays for her teammates, dishing out three assists before scoring her first points.
In a scary situation for Maryland, the Breslin Center went silent with less than two minutes to play in the first quarter. Owusu went down on the floor and was grimacing in pain for a few moments. She was eventually helped off the floor by two staff members but was unable to put weight on her ankle.
The Terps were able to sustain a 21-15 lead through 10 minutes, only turning the ball over once. At that point, though, the overriding storyline would be whether Owusu would return, and if not, how hurt she really was.
Owusu would ultimately not check back into the game, meaning Maryland would have to grind out a tough road win without her.
“[We’re] just playing for her, she’s our floor general,” Reese said.
Per the Big Ten Network broadcast, Reese was also playing under the weather, so each of Maryland’s rotation players needed to step up with reinforcements low.
Both sides began the second quarter on a scoring drought, with only 11 combined points scored in the first five minutes.
The second frame did not portray the offensive spectacle from Maryland that fans have become accustomed to, but a gutsy defensive effort allowed it to take a 32-25 halftime lead into the locker room. Junior Diamond Miller only made three of her 12 first-half field goal attempts, while Sellers’ effort — she had six points, four rebounds and two steals in the first half — gave the Terps a boost without Owusu.
“I just think my teammates put me in really good positions to be successful,” Sellers said. “I was giving everything I had. I know Ashley’s out, so that was kind of a big loss for us, so I had to give everything I can. Just giving that extra effort, we were down a body, but we’ve been there before, so it wasn’t anything new for me. So I just kind of had to step up and play my part.”
Senior guard Nia Clouden, the country’s ninth-highest scorer, was held to only four points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes. As a team, Michigan State shot 35.7% from the field and turned the ball over 10 times in the first two quarters.
The Spartans ripped off a quick 5-0 spurt to start the third quarter, cutting Maryland’s lead to two, but a persistent drive to the cup by Reese brought Maryland’s lead back to four.
Maryland held Michigan State to a two-plus minute scoring drought in the middle of the quarter, and a clutch triple from graduate student guard Katie Benzan brought Maryland’s lead to 43-34 at the third quarter’s media hiatus.
Despite a tough first half, Clouden stayed resilient in the third, and her efforts led to results. Clouden scored 15 third-quarter points and drilled five threes, keeping the Spartans afloat against a shorthanded Maryland squad.
Even without Owusu, Maryland started to establish its grip on the game. Back-to-back and-ones from graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby and Sellers ballooned Maryland’s lead to 10, proving both the gumption and offensive prowess it could unleash on its opponent.
Clouden ended her massive third quarter with a banked-in three at the buzzer to cut Maryland’s lead to 54-47, but it was Maryland, led by Reese’s 16 points, in control.
The teams traded four points each in the first two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, leading to Frese burning a timeout.
Benzan gave away the ball following the timeout, and the Spartans answered with a mid-range jumper from graduate student guard Tamara Farquhar to make it a five-point game.
With the lead still at five, Miller came over to make a powerful rejection on Parks in the post and took it coast-to-coast, drawing a shooting foul on the other end. Miller nailed both free throws, and Maryland held a 62-55 lead with about four and a half minutes to go.
At an inconvenient time late in the fourth, Maryland went through a scoring drought that spanned more than two minutes. Clouden’s sixth three-pointer made it a two-point game with about two and a half minutes to play, the closest the Spartans had been in the second half.
“Defensively, I thought, we really, we had some missed opportunities in the third quarter with our hands down,” Frese said. “[Clouden] hit some really deep threes.”
On the other end, Reese was fouled and made two clutch free-throws to make it a 64-60 ballgame in Maryland’s favor with two minutes remaining.
The Terps gave the ball away, though, and a blocking foul on Sellers led to two made free-throw attempts by Farquhar.
Despite the comeback and Clouden’s 22 points, Maryland’s clutch play down the stretch closed out an identity-building road win.
Three things to know
1. Maryland did a tremendous job taking care of the ball in the first half. The assist-to-turnover ratio is a stat that head coach Brenda Frese always mentions as an indicator of a great performance for her team. In the first half against the Spartans, Maryland only turned the ball over three times; the Spartans generated zero points off them. The Terps only dished out five assists on 12-of-34 shooting in the first half, but a major reason why they were able to hold a three-possession halftime advantage is that they did not give the ball away.
2. Ashley Owusu suffered an ankle injury and did not return to the game. When will she be back in the lineup? The Terps’ star point guard is truly indispensable and could be the most instrumental part of Maryland’s success. Only playing eight minutes before going down with the ankle injury, Owusu was ruled out at halftime of Thursday’s contest. Now the question turns to how severe the injury is and how much time Owusu will miss. Her injury is a loss Maryland cannot afford in the long term, and it only leaves the Terps with six regular rotation players remaining.
“We ned to get back to College Park,” Frese said. “I’m sure she’ll have X-rays done by the medical staff, and we’ll see what they say.”
3. Used to playing shorthanded for a large part of the season, experience paid dividends to extend Maryland’s win streak to four. The Terps’ six losses before February were partially due to not having their full roster. In Maryland’s losses against NC State and Stanford in The Bahamas over Thanksgiving, it was without Benzan, Miller and Masonius (who is now out for the season after tearing her ACL against Indiana on Jan. 2). Maryland also stayed within single digits without Miller at No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 12. The Terps were able to gain experience playing without some key parts during those stretches, and Thursday’s victory helped show that.
“Yeah, no question,” said Frese on if the shorthanded experience helped Thursday. “We’ve already experienced [that], I thought this group didn’t blink. They knew they were gonna have to play heavy minutes, and it was a physical contest. And they didn’t feel sorry for themselves, I mean, they took it right at Michigan State.”