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Maryland women’s basketball beats Morgan State, 68-44, in Puerto Rico

The Terps cruise in their first game in the Puerto Rico Clasico.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Bridgeport Regional-Maryland vs Oregon David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In its opening game of the Puerto Rico Clasico, Maryland women’s basketball staved off Morgan State en route to a 68-44 victory.

The No. 7 Terps struggled on offense early on and took just a six-point lead into halftime. But they pulled away in the third quarter and extended the lead down the stretch, making the final score more lopsided than the game.

Kaila Charles led the way for No. 7 Maryland with 18 points, evenly distributing her scoring throughout the game to lend the Terps consistency on offense. She was relied upon to end a scoring drought numerous times, and the junior shot 7-of-12 from the floor.

Taylor Mikesell had the best quarter of anyone in the game, as she scored 14 of her 17 points in less than four minutes coming out of halftime. The freshman hit five shots in a row, including four from beyond the arc, to give Maryland a much-needed cushion to roll to a victory in the end. Stephanie Jones was another bright spots for the Terrapins, as the junior poured in 10 points, all of which came in the first half, as well as 11 rebounds to give the Terps a strong presence inside.

As expected, Maryland dominated on the glass thanks to an abundance of size in the post. Led by Shakira Austin’s 14 boards, the Terps outrebounded Morgan State by a whopping 53-19 margin, including 17-4 in offensive rebounds. The Terrapins also had difficulty taking care of the basketball, which has been one of their lone weaknesses this season. Maryland turned the ball over 23 times, compared to just 12 by the Bears.

Unlike their last outing against South Carolina, the Terrapins got off to a hot start. Led by Jones, they opened up on a 9-2 run, and it seemed as though the game could be over in a hurry. But Morgan State would not allow Maryland to do what Georgia had done the day before, and the Bears were persistent throughout the opening half.

The Terps were careless with the ball early on, committing seven turnovers in the first period to allow the opposition to keep the score close. Thanks to Naomi Bolasingh’s and Adre’onia Coleman’s shooting, the Bears trailed 16-13 after 10 minutes of action.

Watson broke the ice in the second quarter, hitting a midrange jumper to try to spark Maryland’s offense. But the Terps hit a wall, not scoring another point for the next four minutes of action. Coleman scored four points in short order, but Morgan State couldn’t tie the score, much less take a lead. When halftime finally arrived to put an end to the teams’ scoring difficulties, Maryland held just a six-point lead. Whether it was coming off a huge win or spending time in the Caribbean, one thing was for sure—the Terps were rusty.

Brenda Frese’s halftime speech must’ve been a good one, because the Terrapins looked like a brand-new team coming out of the break. On the back of Mikesell, Maryland began to look the part of the No. 7 team in the country, outscoring the Bears by a wide margin in the third quarter.

Charles scored the first point of the half after getting fouled and splitting a pair of free throws, and then Mikesell completely took over. The freshman hit a three to extend the lead to 32-23, and following a Charles layup, she went nuclear. Mikesell scored the next 11 points of the game, including hitting all three of her shots from beyond the arc. After struggling with the 1-4 Bears, the Terps were suddenly leading by 18 points.

Mikesell didn’t score again in the period, but thanks to a trio of veterans—Charles, Fraser and Jones—the Terps staved off a Morgan State run to enter the final 10 minutes of action with a 50-35 lead.

Thanks to Mikesell’s boost, the Terrapins handled the game the rest of the way. Finally able to score with consistency inside the post and in the midrange, Maryland rolled to a 24-point victory.

Three things to know

1. Taylor Mikesell came up big. It wasn’t the freshman’s highest scoring output of the season, but Mikesell scored 14 crucial points in the third quarter alone to give the Terps a huge advantage on the scoreboard. The game was too close for comfort, but she hit four threes in a row to blow Morgan State out of the water.

2. The game was too close for too long. Some will look at the 68-44 final score and assume that the Terps controlled the game from the start, but Morgan State gave the Terrapins fits on offense through the first 20 minutes of game time. Due to an abundance of turnovers and a failure to capitalize on quality looks, Maryland could not score enough to take a sizable lead.

3. No time to rest. It’ll be a quick turnaround for the Terrapins, as they’ll play Georgia in less than 24 hours to finish off this round-robin portion of the Puerto Rico Clasico. The Bulldogs easily disposed of Morgan State on Thanksgiving Day, winning 60-33 in a blowout. They’ll also have the benefit of an extra day to rest, something the Terps do not have.