Heading into action on Monday night coming off two consecutive blowout victories, Maryland women’s basketball held off Illinois late for an 80-66 victory.
Shakira Austin had the best offensive performance of her collegiate career against an undersized Illini team. The 6’5 center led all scorers with 17 points on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting from the floor. And despite entering the game shooting an atrocious 43.9 percent from the free throw line, the freshman went 5-of-6 while adding seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Five other Terrapins joined Austin in double figures, as it took every last scorer to fend off Illinois in the second half. Taylor Mikesell was next in line with 14 points, but Kaila Charles and Brianna Fraser scored 12 each, while Stephanie Jones and Blair Watson added 11.
With Illinois lacking in height, Maryland completely controlled on the glass, both offensively and defensively. In the first half alone, the Terps secured nine offensive rebounds against the Illini, and that led to 15 second-chance points that helped them get out to a large lead early on.
Thanks to back-to-back three-pointers from Brandi Beasley, the Illini jumped out to a quick 10-6 lead just three minutes into the game. But Maryland soon found its stroke from downtown, as a Watson bomb from beyond the arc sparked a 14-2 run over the ensuing four minutes. And after Mikesell drained a pair of threes to close out the quarter, the Terps held a 26-14 lead.
That momentum carried into the second period, as the Terrapins scored the first seven points of the quarter in less than 90 seconds. Illinois finally started to hit some baskets, but when Watson scored eight points, including two three-pointers, in a two-minute span, the lead hit 23 points. Just 30 seconds later, it was up to 24.
It seemed as though a blowout was in store, but despite their last-place spot in the Big Ten standings, the Illini never gave up. In fact, they started playing their best basketball of the night. Down 46-22 with just over three minutes to go before halftime, Illinois quickly hit three baskets in a row to cut the deficit to 18 points. Jones’ layup briefly stopped the run, but the hosts closed off the half by nailing three consecutive shots from long range to send the Terps into halftime with just a 48-37 lead.
The third quarter was as back and forth as can be, as neither team scored more than four points in a row for the first five minutes of the period. But after Austin hit a shot at point-blank range at the 4:46 mark to put Maryland up 61-47, both teams forgot how to score. The Terps held that 14-point lead for the next 2:50 before the Illini finally found the bottom of the net. They ended the quarter on a 7-0 run, cutting the deficit to seven points heading into the final 10 minutes.
There, Maryland did what it’s done best. Illinois wasn’t able to get things closer than those seven points and the Terps led by double digitnearly the entire quarter. Once Wittinger was sidelined with foul issues, it was too little, too late.
Maryland will be back in action on Thursday night, as the Terps will host Northwestern in the Xfinity Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET and the game can be watched on BTN2Go.
Three things to know
1. It was a group effort. For most games this season, Maryland has been primarily led by one or two players each game with a handful of others giving important contributions. Against the Illini, six total players finished in double figures. Shakira Austin shouldered the largest load, but Taylor Mikesell, Brianna Fraser, Stephanie Jones, Blair Watson and Kaila Charles all reached at least 10 points on the night.
2. It could have been easy. In most games this season, Maryland has overcome a sluggish start to dominate in the second half and pull away late. Despite holding a 24-point lead in the second quarter and possessing all of the momentum, Maryland took its foot off the gas pedal. Shots stopped falling and they were sloppier than ever before. Luckily for the Terps, they were too talented to slip up too bad in the end.
3. Back in first place. The Terrapins don’t have sole possession of first place in the Big Ten just yet, but with the win over Illinois, Maryland has tied Rutgers atop the conference standings at 9-2. Fortunately for both teams, they have one more meeting against each other, and that’ll come this Sunday in New Jersey. With the way the squads are currently playing, that could decide the regular-season title.