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No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball Daytona Beach Invitational preview: Clemson

The Terps are headed to the Daytona Invitational to take on a familiar foe.

Brenda Frese, Maryland women’s basketball, George Washington Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Fresh off its second 100-point scoring performance of the season, No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball is off the Sunshine State to face Clemson on Friday as part of the 2019 Daytona Beach Invitational.

Maryland was one of 10 schools invited to participate, and it’s the only ranked invitee in this year’s tournament. Head coach Brenda Frese’s team has routinely competed in early-season invitationals such as these, but Friday’s game marks its first appearance in a Destination Basketball event.

The Terps have held a firm grip over their former ACC foe in the all-time series between the two programs, winning 42 of the 66 prior meetings with the Tigers. That includes a 14-game winning streak dating back to 2004, but its been almost six years since the two teams last played.

Tipoff is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET, and coverage can be streamed on PassThaBall.com.

Clemson Tigers (2-4, 0-0 ACC)

Head coach Amanda Butler had spent the previous 10 seasons at the University of Florida before being named Clemson’s seventh head coach in program history in 2018. Though a poor season in 2017-18 culminated in her termination by the Gators, Butler led the Tigers to an impressive finish in her debut season at the helm. The 2018-19 Tigers finished with a 20-13 record under Butler, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002.

Players to Know

Senior forward Kobi Thornton (No. 44) has been a consistent offensive force for the Tigers despite the coaching regime change between her sophomore and junior seasons, pacing her team in scoring in each of the last two years. An All-ACC Second Team honoree last season, she’s averaged 16.3 points per game this season, with everything Clemson does offensively running through her.

Freshman forward Amari Robinson (No. 5) accompanies Thornton as one of the key cogs in Clemson’s offense, doing so in just her first year as a Tiger. Coming in as the 18th ranked forward recruit in the class of 2019 (per ESPN HoopGurlz), Robinson has made an instant impact for the Tigers on the score board and the back board, averaging 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Junior guard Kendall Spray (No. 3) is one of Butler’s lead guards at her disposal, but hasn’t been able to get her going yet this season. After ranking ninth in the nation in three pointers per game (3.68) and 16th in three point percentage (42.5 percent) in her two seasons at at University of Tennessee-Martin before transferring, Spray has shot only 6-21 beyond the arc (28.6 percent) to go with just 6.5 points per game.

Strength

Rebounding. For a Maryland team that’s struggle to beat teams on the boards, Clemson should offer a strong test for how the Terps can compete against a capable rebounding team. The Tigers grab 40.5 rebounds per game, good for a +2.8 rebound margin and the highest per game average since Maryland played James Madison.

Weakness

Free throw percentage. The Tigers haven’t been a team that shoots the ball well generally, but their shooting struggles have really manifested itself at the free throw line this season. On 90 trips to the line, Clemson has connected on only 54 of its free throw attempts, good for a 60. percent mark that puts them tied for 300th worst in Division I.

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Owusu and Austin continue to amaze? Freshman guard Ashley Owusu and sophomore Shakira Austin have been two of the driving forces behind their four-game winning streak, each averaging 13.25 and 15.25 points per game respectively over that span while receiving Big Ten weekly honors earlier in the week. The level of competition the two will be faced with will only continue to rise as the season progresses, but so far no team has had an answer for the dynamic guard-forward duo.

2. Can the Terps continue to force their opponent to make mistakes? Maryland’s defensive identity has continued to become more and more refined with every passing game, with each of the last three games resulting in over 20 turnovers by its opponents. Now facing an opponent that commits 20+ turnovers per game on average, the Terps are likely to roll out the same game plan that’s worked so well over their last four.

3. How will Maryland perform on the road? The Terps have only been on the road once so far this season, with their lone game away from the Xfinity Center resulting in a 70-68 nail-biter of a win against James Madison in which Maryland played from behind for much of the game. They were strong away from home last season, finishing 10-2 in their 12 road games in 2018, but have yet to assert their dominance on the road this season.