Down 19 points to James Madison at the start of the fourth quarter, No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball was in jeopardy of starting with two losses in three games for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
But the Terps mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter, which included a 16-2 run over the final 3:01 of play fueled by their full-court defense. Culminating in a go-ahead basket from sophomore forward Shakira Austin from the top of the key, Maryland jumped ahead by two for its first lead of the game with 1:20 remaining.
The Dukes tied it back up thanks to two free throws, and with 14.8 seconds remaining, Maryland pushed down the other end, leaving the ball in the hands of freshman guard Ashley Owusu. She took a defender to the hole and banked it off the top of the glass with just 4.8 seconds remaining to give the Terps a 70-68 victory.
“Obviously just extremely proud of our poise,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “Proud of the fourth quarter, we could have put our heads down, and we brought a lot more energy on the defensive end.”
After a hot-and-cold performance against then-No. 8 South Carolina culminated in their first loss of the season on Sunday, the Terps fell victim to the same tendencies for much of Wednesday night.
Maryland was down from the jump in this one after JMU took a 9-1 lead at the start of the first quarter. But it eventually went on a 12-3 scoring run to cut the Duke lead to just 34-27 at the break.
Though the Terps trailed by just seven at halftime and could have mounted a comeback, they just couldn’t seem to do what they wanted to possession-to-possession in the third quarter.
Whether it was on the break or in the half court, the Terp offense struggled to maintain possession of ball, turning it over five times in the third to reach 18 by the period’s end, more than each of their last two games combined.
“I just think we weren’t really bought into our system in the beginning,” senior guard Kaila Charles said. “We were doing a lot of 1-on-1 plays and were lacking communication and energy on defense.”
A massive third quarter run by JMU put it ahead by 19 at one point, out-rebounding the much taller Terps 12-10 in the period while hitting on three of their five shots from deep. Poor shooting from Maryland didn’t help either, as it shot just 6-16 in the third and 1-5 from three.
As the offense continuously sputtered, Maryland’s defense lost some of the energy that kept it in the first half. JMU outscored the Terps 23-14 in third to hold a 16-point lead over the No. 8 team in the country entering the fourth quarter.
“They’re a really good team, they play really well together, but I think it was mostly us on our end and our communication,” Charles said. “We weren’t really together and on the same page so they were able to get easy looks and our defense was breaking down because we weren’t talking.”
But Maryland wouldn’t go down that easy.
A quick 7-0 spurt led by freshman guard Ashley Owusu and Charles cut the lead to 12 in the fourth quarter, and eventually to single digits with over seven minutes remaining.
With less than five to go, the Terps were on a 13-2 run and brought the game within eight points. Maryland’s full-court pressure continued to force JMU into turning the ball over in the backcourt, forcing seven turnovers in the quarter to turn the game on its head.
“We just came out a lot more aggressive,” Austin said. “It started off with just steals and being able to turn defense into offense and slowly just knowing that you gotta attack, less dribbles going into their body, just stuff that we like that that [the coaching staff] had been talking about all game. We were just able to apply it in the fourth quarter finally.”
They tied things up at 66-66 thanks to a clutch three pointer from sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell with 2:04 left, bringing them the closest they had been to the Dukes since the game’s opening minutes.
Austin hit the jumper to put Maryland ahead 40 seconds later, with Owusu ultimately connecting on the layup to give the team the come-from-behind win.
Three Things to Know
1. Ashley Owusu continues to showcase her talent.Though Charles was pegged before the season as the likely top player for the Terps, Owusu’s play through three games has shown that she was much more prepared to instantly contribute this season than anyone could have anticipated. Owusu finished Wednesday night with 14 points and three assists.
2. Shakira Austin played a huge part in the late run. After struggling to find her touch around the rim for much of the game, the sophomore forward came alive in the final quarter of play for the Terps. She shot 6-for-6 for 13 points over the last 10 minutes of play, hitting the a go-ahead jumper with 1:20 remaining as well.
“We said it on the bench that we thought we had to go through her, and to just get that presence established” Frese said of Austin’s play in the fourth. “I thought she was phenomenal when her number was called ... she changes the game for us when she’s playing as hard as she did tonight.”
Owusu will get all the credit for hitting the game-winner, but the Terps wouldn’t have been in that position without Austin. She notched a game-high and a career-high 20 points.
3. Maryland didn’t do itself any favors with turnovers. The Terps pulled out the comeback, but were in that hole to begin with in large part to their own errors. Maryland finished the game with 20 turnovers, more than it had in both of its previous two contests combined.