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Maryland women’s basketball shakes off slow start to beat Purdue, 58-55

The No. 8 Terps rode strong second-half defense to victory.

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

Maryland women’s basketball has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with a 58-55 win on the road against Purdue on Monday night.

In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Terrapins came out slow but were able to pull away in the second half. Just one game remains before the postseason, a Saturday afternoon home matchup against Illinois. A win there would clinch the conference championship for the No. 8 Terps.

After winning Big Ten Player of the Week for her performance against Minnesota, Kaila Charles finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting, and she posted her fourth double-double of the season with 13 rebounds as well.

It took until the fourth quarter for Charles to be joined in double figures, but it was well worth the wait. Stephanie Jones was solid down the stretch en route to a 16-point performance on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, and Taylor Mikesell finished with 10 thanks to a 2-of-5 shooting night from beyond the arc. Shakira Austin scored just six points on 3-of-9 shooting, but the freshman was a force on defense, racking up 14 rebounds and registering seven blocks.

Neither Maryland nor Purdue were able to shoot well whatsoever, as the teams struggled to eclipse the 50-point threshold. The Terrapins just hit 38.6 percent of their field goals (including a disastrous 2-of-11 from beyond the arc), but they still edged out Purdue’s 34.9 percent clip.

Despite all the momentum that last week’s win was expected to bring, the Terrapins struggled out of the gate. Maryland led for just two minutes in the first half, and was either behind or tied for the final 13:54. That was the result of poor shooting, as it managed to make just five of its 18 field goal attempts in the quarter. Purdue, on the other hand, started hot despite being losers of three of its last four games. The Boilermakers ended the first quarter on an 8-0 run over the final three minutes of action to take a 19-11 lead into the second. They shot a blistering 52.9 percent early on, including 50 percent from deep.

While Maryland’s offense managed just 12 points in the second quarter, the defense picked up its play to cut into the deficit. The Terrapins were especially stingy, holding Purdue to 10 points in the period on just 21.1 percent shooting. A lot of that was due to Austin’s three blocks, being a force to be reckoned with on the interior. Still, Maryland faced a 29-23 deficit heading into the break.

To kick off the second half, Maryland had a pair of baskets early to cut the deficit to two and seemed as though it would take the lead and pull away. That never came to pass-at least not in the third-as Purdue responded with a 10-2 run to push its lead to 10, the biggest of the game. The Boilermakers were led by freshman Kayana Traylor, who scored 10 points—including a pair of three-pointers—in the quarter alone to give her team a 43-37 lead entering the final period.

Maryland needed a boost to take the lead in the fourth quarter, and it got just that right away. The Terrapins started the period on a 10-0 run over the first four minutes of action to take a 47-43 lead with six minutes to go. Purdue was finally able to take the lid off its offensive basket, but clutch shots from Mikesell and Jones down the stretch allowed the Terps to hang on for the victory.

However, it wasn’t without incident. The Terps led 55-49 with under 20 seconds to go, but on a three-point attempt by Dominique Oden, Blair Watson committed a terrible foul to give Purdue three free throws. Oden hit all three, and the Boilermakers were able to get a game-tying three-point opportunity at the buzzer after a free-throw affair. Fortunately for Maryland, it missed ever so slightly.

Three things to know

1. Kaila Charles: still good. If it weren’t for Charles’ play last week, Maryland would have lost to Minnesota. And if it weren’t for her on Monday night, the Terps would have let Iowa back into the Big Ten title picture. She was the best player from start to finish (despite a late DQ with five fouls), as she posted a 20-point performance with 13 rebounds to bring Maryland back from a potential loss once again.

2. Brianna Fraser was missed. The senior forward missed Monday’s game after suffering a sprained ankle last week—she remains in an ankle cast—and her absence was felt against Purdue. With Stephanie Jones sidelined for the final 17 minutes of the first half with two fouls, the Terrapins were shorthanded in the post and struggled to dominate inside like they’ve done all year.

3. Just one more to go. Maryland escaped defeat, and while its performance was certainly troublesome, it got the win it needed. Now, the Terrapins have the opportunity to clinch sole possession of the Big Ten regular-season title with a win over Illinois on Saturday afternoon. Tipoff against the last-place Illini is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET and the game can be watched on BTN Plus.