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Maryland women’s basketball holds off Penn State, 69-65

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The No. 15 Terps finish the calendar year with a road win.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Maryland at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but Maryland women’s basketball scratched and clawed its way to a 69-65 win Sunday at Penn State.

The Terps led by as much as eight in the first half, but the Nittany Lions rallied and made it a back-and-forth game throughout the second half. Stephanie Jones hit two free throws with 59 seconds left to give Maryland the lead for good, and then a layup with 12 seconds left to ice the game.

Blair Watson’s hot streak continued with 15 points on five threes. The sophomore has now hit at least five threes in five straight games. The Terps had four players in double figures, including Watson, and Ieshia Small had 14 points, including seven straight at a pivotal point in the third quarter.

Watson and Small stepped up while leading scorer Kaila Charles struggled. The sophomore finished with three points on 1-of-11 shooting, but contributed in other ways with 11 rebounds and four assists.

Maryland was able to eke out a win when not many things went right. It out-rebounded Penn State 50-38, but left plenty of points around the rim. It forced 16 turnovers, but gave it away 16 times and struggled with foul trouble. Nittany Lions’ leading scorer Teniya Page was held to nine points, but Jada Travascio-Green scored 21 and was left wide open multiple times.

In the end, the Terps’ experience closing out games was just enough.

For the first two minutes, it looked like another easy game for Maryland. The Terps jumped out to an 8-1 lead, with both Watson and Kristen Confroy hitting open threes. Maryland extended the lead to 13-4, but then caught the turnover bug from the men’s team and turned it over five times in the next three minutes. The Terps didn’t score during that stretch, and the Nittany Lions went on a 9-0 run to tie the game.

The teams traded baskets for the last few minutes of the quarter, and a three from Watson gave the Terps a 21-18 lead at the end of the opening frame. Maryland’s lead grew to eight when Brianna Fraser hit a jumper to make it 30-22 with 6:31 to play in the second quarter, but like the first quarter, Penn State responded to close the gap.

The Nittany Lions outscored the Terps 19-10 the rest of the quarter, and took the lead on a three from Travascio-Green with 1:59 to go in the half. Maryland struggled to stop the 6’2 guard, as Travascio-Green scored Penn State’s last eight points of the second quarter and 13 in the half.

The Terps’ foul trouble and struggles inside also caught up with them late in the second quarter. Jones picked up two fouls in the first quarter, and Watson and Channise Lewis also picked up two in the first half. Losing Jones made it easier for Penn State to attack the basket, and the Nittany Lions scored 20 points in the paint in the opening 20 minutes.

Penn State pushed the lead to 47-42 to start the third quarter, but Maryland responded with a 10-0 run. Small scored the first seven points of the run to retake the lead, and Watson hit a three off a Nittany Lion turnover.

The Terps still failed to gain separation, as Penn State scored the last five points of the quarter to take a 55-54 lead after Lewis went out with her fourth foul.

The game continued to go back and forth in the fourth quarter, with teams trading points until Small hit a jumper and Jones hit two free throws to give Maryland a 67-65 lead. After stopping Page on the next possession, Confroy found Jones with the shot clock winding down to give the Terps just enough separation.

Three things to know

1. Once again, Maryland found a way to win on the road. The Terps have played arguably their three worst games of the season away from the Xfinity Center, but have won all three. When it mattered most, they made enough plays to win.

2. The Terps won the rebounding battle, but couldn’t fully capitalize. Maryland was strong on the glass again, but missed a frustrating amount of shots around the rim. If even half of the misses went through the net, the Terps would’ve gained enough cushion to breathe a little easier down the stretch.

3. Thursday will be much tougher. After a lackluster performance, Maryland will have to turn the page quickly and get ready for Iowa. Megan Gustafson is a double-double machine, and is the best post player the Terps have faced since South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson.