With time running down in the third quarter, No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball looked to continue adding to its 11-4 run that had shot them ahead of the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes after trailing for the majority of the first half.
Senior guard Kaila Charles stared down the defense from the top of the key, probing for an open look. She used a screen to get into the lane, pulled up from the free-throw line and sunk it to score her 18th point of the evening and give Maryland a two-point lead heading into the final frame.
She went on to lead all scorers with a season-high 28 points on 68.4 percent shooting, including 10 points in the fourth quarter, to lead the Terps to a 72-62 comeback victory over the Buckeyes. The senior guard also notched seven rebounds and four steals in the win.
“I loved the response coming out of the locker room,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “You talk about Kaila being the All-American that she is, just making plays for us and I thought she was just really efficient in the shots that she took tonight to allow us to be successful.”
After filling up the scoring column over Maryland’s last three games, Charles was feeling herself once again early on Monday night. She notched the Terps’ first two points of the game and repeatedly challenged the Buckeyes at the rim with 10 first quarter points on 5-for-6 shooting before foul trouble forced her to the bench.
“[We’re] always trying to get Kaila going,” senior guard Blair Watson said. “We know that she’s a scorer and that she can always take whoever’s in front of her, so it’s like, ‘OK, let’s get it to Kaila and see how much we can get out of her,’ and she’s always there for us and she’s always giving 100 percent.”
But the Buckeyes proved to be equally as capable offensively, exploiting the holes in Brenda Frese’s man-to-man defense throughout the first half of action to prompt a switch to a 3-2 zone. They shot almost 60 percent from the field after the first 20 minutes of play, knocking down six three-pointers after coming in averaging just 6.8 deep balls per game.
The Terps also gave the Buckeyes a look they likely weren’t expecting early on, as Frese opted not to utilize the full-court trap that had Maryland in the top-5 in Division I in forced turnovers per game (24.2). Instead, Maryland defended straight up in the half-court and managed to take it away from Ohio State relatively effectively, forcing the team into 10 first half turnovers.
Yet in spite of its turnover woes, the Ohio State offense was firing on all cylinders — especially once Charles was forced to sit. After trailing by a point with 8:07 remaining in the second quarter, the senior picked up a cheap foul in the backcourt to give her two and brought Watson off the bench in relief.
In the subsequent eight minutes that she sat, the Buckeyes rattled off a 12-1 run to go up by as many as 11 before the Terps pared it down to a 42-35 deficit going into the halftime break.
The Terps opened the second half with the same full-court pressure they’d used all season, making it difficult for Buckeye guards to get the ball across half court following each made basket. The added pressure helped Maryland close the gap on the scoreboard, as a fresh Charles returned to the floor and continued imposing her will offensively.
“I think it’s just mentality,” Charles said of the slow start defensively. “Coach really challenged us at halftime to make a statement ... we kinda just locked in, back to the basics of who we are.”
Trailing by seven with 7:40 left in the third quarter, Charles dove into the passing lane for the steal before breaking free into the open court for the easy lay-up to reduce the deficit to five. Such was the formula for the Terp third quarter comeback, as the team forced 11 turnovers in the period to fuel a 11-2 run that gave it its first lead since early in the second.
The tension steadily rose as the game came down the stretch, but the intensity only elevated Charles’ level of play. She tallied 10 clutch points in the quarter to add to a 13-0 run for the Terps that they rode the rest of the way to the finish line.
Three things to know
1. Maryland continues to struggle from the free-throw line. After a slow start to the season from the charity stripe, the Terps had bounced back to shoot 80 percent in four of their last six games, but returned to being inconsistent Monday night. As a team, Maryland shot 64.7 percent — going 11-of-17 on the evening.
2. The Terps uncharacteristically struggled to guard against the three. Against the Buckeyes, Maryland opted to run a primarily zone-oriented defense, which forced some turnovers, but also made the perimeter tough to guard.
Ohio State was able to drain eight three-pointers as a team — with Aaliyah Patty, Dorka Juhasz and Jacy Sheldon making two three-pointers each.
3. Defense sparked the comeback. With the Buckeyes seemingly scoring at ease well into the third quarter, something needed to change to swing the momentum in this one. Midway through the quarter, Maryland flipped the switch, attacking Ohio State’s guards defensively to stymie the offensive rhythm it had cultivated to that point.
“Our defense definitely leads to our offense,” Charles said. “When we get those stops and steals, it jumpstarts our transition and one thing that we practice is pushing the ball and running that’s what we’re known for.”
The Buckeyes shot just 29.6 percent from the field in the second half after shooting nearly 60 percent in the first half, while committing 15 second half turnovers as well to help wake the Terp offense up.