With under six minutes left in Maryland women’s basketball’s Big Ten opener against Rutgers, forward Diamond Miller sprinted out to the three-point line, caught the ball from guard Katie Benzan and knocked down the triple to give Maryland a 12-point lead over Rutgers.
However, The Terps; largest lead of the game quickly vanished as the team missed four consecutive field goals a few minutes later. The Scarlet Knights took advantage of the poor shooting, forcing the contest in a close nail-biter late.
Maryland narrowly edged out Rutgers late, leaving Piscataway, New Jersey, with a 91-87 victory.
In what seemed like a far cry from their performances so far this season, in which they have shot 51.6% from the floor and 47.9% beyond the arc, the Terps struggled with shooting throughout the game.
Maryland made a mere 34.2% of its shots from the field and went 31.3% from deep in the first half, locking the team in a tie going into halftime, despite coming in as the significantly better team. Head coach Brenda Frese’s squad finally found its rhythm in the second half, but still ended the game well below its season average, shooting 42.6% from the floor and 42.3% on three-point attempts.
The Terps started the contest with four consecutive missed shots, unable to get anything to drop for nearly the first three minutes. Chloe Bibby opened up the scoring with an and-one bucket followed by a three-pointer to get the Terps rolling, but the uncharacteristically poor first half shooting from Maryland continued to keep the game close early on.
Katie Benzan, who went 6-for-7 from beyond the arc in Maryland’s previous game against Towson struggled shooting, hitting just one of four attempts from long range around the two-minute mark of the first quarter.
The second quarter proved to be just as close for Rutgers and Maryland as the first, as neither team was able to gain any distance for long. The Scarlet Knights refused to let the Terps gain much ground, matching any of the rare buckets that Maryland made as the two teams went back and forth.
Bibby kept the Terps in the game as the period quarter started, hitting a triple to keep the Scarlet Knights on their toes. However, the rest of the team continued to struggle, with Maryland missing four straight shots in the final two minutes of the first half. Diamond Miller managed to get the team a much-need three at the buzzer to tie the game 42-42 going into halftime.
The duo kept the Terps in striking distance throughout the first half, heading into the break with 12 points and 14 points, respectively.
After trading buckets in the first half, Maryland came out of the locker room scoring five unanswered points to take a 47-42 lead before a Rutgers timeout.
Following the timeout however, Rutgers cut down Maryland’s largest lead of the game of nine points to just two by the six minute mark, with the Terps clinging on to a narrow 53-51 lead.
Arella Guirantes, who led the Scarlet Knights with 33 points, gave Rutgers the lead with an and-one conversion to take back the lead, 54-53.
Maryland, failing to gain any momentum from the court as the third quarter came to a close, could only manage to keep the contest tied at 68-68.
The Terps fought back as the fourth quarter started, jumping out to a 75-68 lead over the Scarlet Knights. Led by Mimi Collins, who scored a career-high 22 points, Maryland was able to then gain a bit of distance over Rutgers.
“My mindset was just toughness,” said Collins, on what motivated her to a team-high scoring performance, “The word that kept replaying in my head, just toughness, toughness and toughness.”
However, in what was a common theme all afternoon, Maryland could not hold the lead for long, missing its next four shots as Rutgers hit five of its next seven shots as time wound down in the fourth.
In the final 1:30, the Terps clutching onto a slim lead, Rutgers refused to go away, cut the lead down to just two points with five seconds to go in the fourth.
“The problem was inexperience in this situation,” said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “There were just a few times we got disoriented, and that was enough for them to hit shots, and we didn’t.”
Luckily for Maryland, Channise Lewis was able to convert on both free throws after drawing a foul to secure the Terps a 91-87 lead as the final buzzer sounded.
Three things to know
1. The Terps could not stop Arella Guirantes. The Rutgers star put up 33 points points on 12-23 shooting while playing nearly the entire game. The Scarlet Knights were stuck relying on their core group of four players, which combined for 75 points, while the other six who saw the floor combined for just 12.
“There’s a reason why she was picked in the preseason to be [Big Ten] Player of the Year, she’s just a heck of a player,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese, on the Scarlet Knight’s star player. “She’s really difficult to defend.”
2. Brenda Frese only rotated seven players. In the first full game without star freshman Angel Reese, Maryland used just seven players — Benzan, Bibby, Collins, Lewis, Masonius, Miller and Owusu — with everyone but Masonius playing at least 29 minutes. The group was able to mostly avoid foul trouble until Miller caught her fourth foul in the final quarter, but getting any and all depth back and up to game-speed will be important as Big Ten play continues.
3. Maryland did well in turning defense into offense. The Terps forced 21 turnovers on the afternoon and were able to turn those flipped possessions into 22 points. The starting five came away with nine of the team’s nine steals, including Owusu leading the team with three of her own.