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Maryland women’s basketball inches past Georgia, 58-51, in Puerto Rico

The Terps finish their Thanksgiving Weekend 2-0, although this game wasn’t easy.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Maryland Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

A 14-minute field goal drought nearly resulted in its first loss of the season, but Maryland women’s basketball escaped with a 58-51 win over Georgia to win the Puerto Rico Clasico.

The Terrapins nearly gave this contest away in the second and third quarters, as they couldn’t hit a single shot from the floor in over 14 minutes of play. In that time, the Terps blew a 15-point lead and fell behind late in the third period. Kaila Charles came up in the clutch to break the drought, and fortunately for Maryland, that sparked enough offense to finish with a victory.

Stephanie Jones led all scorers with 21 points, and she scored 17 of the team’s first 34 to give the Terrapins a 15-point cushion that they needed every point of. And after the lid was finally taken off the basket in the third quarter, she hit two consecutive shots late to extend Maryland’s lead enough to finally emerge victorious.

Outside of Jones, the rest of the rotation was a near-disaster—they shot just 30.3 percent from the floor and went 3-of-10 from beyond the arc. As a team, Maryland won the rebounding battle against Georgia, 46-42, the Terps’ smallest margin of victory this season; that’s including Shakira Austin’s 14 boards. And as has become the norm this season, Maryland had a negative turnover ratio, giving the ball away 15 times compared to Georgia’s six.

Maryland had a tumultuous beginning to its game on Friday, and Jones made sure that Saturday would begin differently. The junior scored the Terrapins’ first seven points of the game, ensuring that her team would begin with a lead. Not to be outdone, Caliya Robinson scored Georgia’s first six points in the first four minutes to keep the score close. But the Terps showed their might, scoring in bunches at an efficient rate to extend the lead. Jones continued to bully Bulldogs defenders inside, and Charles, Mikesell and Lewis provided an outside presence to balance out the offense. By the end of the first 10 minutes, Maryland held a 26-18 lead.

The Terps continued a strong run of play to start the second quarter, scoring five of the period’s first six points in less than two minutes. Jones’ layup at the 7:42 mark made it a 9-1 extended run dating back to the end of the previous period. And it was at that moment that the Terrapins forgot how to shoot the basketball.

The only points the Terps would score for the next 14-plus minutes would come from the free throw line, and that was another nightmare in and of itself. In the second quarter, Maryland went just 4-of-8 from the free throw line, leaving points on the board often. That allowed the Bulldogs to chip away at their 15-point deficit. It was an ensemble cast for Georgia, spearheaded by Taja Cole. The redshirt junior scored six of the team’s 12 points in the quarter, including a buzzer-beating three to end the half, cutting the lead to 37-30.

Unlike the game against Morgan State, the Terps failed to bounce back with a vengeance coming out of the break. They continued to miss every field goal they took, allowing Georgia to eventually take the lead. Cole scored four of six points in short order, and after a layup by Gabby Connally with 5:18 to go, the Bulldogs pushed ahead, 40-38.

The Terrapins hadn’t made a field goal in over 14 minutes of game time when they turned to their best player in Charles. The junior hit a layup at the 3:18 mark, the first made basket since the 7:42 mark of the second quarter, to tie the score at 40. Charles then hit another shot and split a pair of free throws to give Maryland a three-point lead, and the team remained ahead. Former Terp Jenna Staiti scored her first points of the game with over a minute left, but Jones hit a pair of layups at the end of the half to give Maryland a 47-42 lead entering the final period.

Maryland failed to score with any kind of efficiency to start the final 10 minutes, but fortunately for the Terps, Georgia couldn’t score either. Shakira Austin hit a pair of free throws at 8:53, and no balls went through the net until the 6:29 mark when Connally hit a layup.

Neither team scored a single point again until the 3:46 mark when Brianna Fraser hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to seven points. Her leadership as a senior paid huge dividends late, as she hit two midrange jumpers late to clinch a Maryland victory. Taylor Mikesell converted at the charity stripe in the final minute to preserve the Terrapins’ undefeated start to the season.

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s offense almost lost this game. It was a embarrassing showing on offense for the Terps, who shot just 40.4 percent from the floor and committed 15 turnovers to Georgia’s six. They failed to hit a shot in over 14 minutes of action, and had the Bulldogs fixed their offensive woes, the Terrapins could’ve faced a larger deficit.

2. Stephanie Jones was terrific. In an offensively-challenged game, the junior shone bright and was one of the few positives for Maryland in this game. Jones scored 21 points, and she shot an efficient 9-of-14 from the floor. Had she not showed out as she did, Maryland easily could have lost.

3. Time to come back home. The Terrapins were fortunate to play a tournament in tropical Puerto Rico over the Thanksgiving holiday, but after going 2-0 the Puerto Rico Clasico, they’ll return to College Park. In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Maryland will face Georgia Tech on Thursday night in hopes of righting the ship.