Maryland women’s basketball entered Tuesday’s game against Rutgers on a four game losing streak and tied for the second-worst Big Ten record.
It desperately needed a boost of confidence — and more than anything — a tally in the win column.
It got both.
The Terps barely trailed the Scarlet Knights all game and gutted out a close, yet dominant finish. Three Maryland scorers ended in double digits as it defeated a struggling Rutgers squad, 67-59.
But it wasn’t easy
With a 13 point lead heading into the final quarter, the Terps had a choice: it could either allow Rutgers to make it a close finish or they could end the contest in their own terms.
Maryland chose the former.
The Scarlet Knights heated up from the field, ultimately going 3-for-7 from deep in the frame. Furthermore, the Terps simply stopped scoring; it had a period of over four minutes without a single field goal.
“I thought we got tired in the fourth,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “Mental mistakes and the turnovers really impacted us.”
But in the final two minutes of play, Maryland locked in. Bri McDaniel handled the ball on offense, and she subsequently earned two trips to the line. Brinae Alexander also drew a charge in the final minute to effectively put the game on ice.
Both teams eased into the contest, which for Maryland was the opposite start in comparison to its rapid 11-3 opening run in last Saturday’s game versus then-No. 3 Iowa.
Instead, the Terps commenced with a slightly clunky offensive performance.
In the first five minutes, they had to adapt to Rutgers’ multiple zone defense variations, most notably a 2-3 strategy. It left more shooters open from pockets in the midrange and downtown, but the shots were rushed and often not in the flow of the attack.
“I thought that was a little fatigue based, based off of the last game,” head coach Brenda Frese said of the team’s start. “Back to back 8:30 tips and, you know, the amount of adrenaline and what that game took out of us.”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s defense not only kept it in the game, but firmly in the lead. Despite shooting a paltry 6-for-20 in the first frame, the Terps notched two steals and caused six turnovers to stave off the Scarlet Knights.
The second frame saw a paradigm shift in Maryland’s approach. The defense remained pesky, bugging and nagging. But the offensive effort was commendable, showcasing an impressive display on the offensive glass despite multiple missed opportunities. The disparity was evident — the Terps had a 14-6 offensive rebounding advantage in just the first half.
“I thought we were just quicker...a lot more aggressive,” Frese said. “[Offensive rebounds] gave us those extra opportunities, especially since [Rutgers] wanted to take the air out of the ball and kind of have less possessions in this game.”
However, the Terps seldom looked to work the ball in the paint on the attack. Even after grabbing second chance opportunities, they always seemed to swing the ball back out for a shot from beyond the arc. In the second period, Maryland went 1-for-6 from deep.
“I thought we settled for too many threes in the first half, but especially that second quarter,” Frese said. “And then I thought our legs were tired. When you see us missing free throws and layups, those are uncharacteristic of us.”
The half ended on a strong note for the Terps, as they went 3-for-3 on their final three field goals and settled into the flow of a fast-paced contest. Meanwhile, Rutgers went just 7-for-17 in the entire second quarter.
Through 20 minutes of play, Maryland led 37-28.
The third quarter was admirable — and has now suddenly become a strength for the Terps.
Rather than succumbing to an early Rutgers push, Maryland jumped out of the half to a quick 7-0 run of its own in the first two minutes. In this period, the Terps spread the ball to four different scorers, going 2-for-3 from the field and 3-for-4 from the stripe.
The third frame was also the most comprehensive in terms of defensive performance for Maryland. It forced the Scarlet Knights into committing a staggering eight turnovers.
“[I] just think it shows that we’re getting better,” Brown-Turner said of the team’s ability to close out the game. “We’re connected.”
Three things to know
1. A tough shooting night didn’t end up hurting the Terps. At no point Tuesday did Maryland truly enter a scoring explosion resemblant of its offensive scoring spurts against Iowa. But the Terps still found a way to gut it out, despite shooting just 32.4 percent from the field.
Maryland’s garnered 12 second chance points, proving essential.
2. Sellers still looked banged up. With a knee injury that made her questionable to play in last Saturday’s game against the Hawkeyes, it was clear that Sellers wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
She scored 16 points, but went just 4-for-15 from the field and hobbled at times. Nevertheless, the tough-minded Sellers has been adamant in persevering through the pain.
3. The losing streak came to an end. Tuesday’s win snapped a four game skid and elevated the Terps to a 5-7 Big Ten record. With just six games remaining in the regular season schedule, it will be crucial for Maryland to collect wins and secure a respectable seed in the Big Ten Tournament.