No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball entered the second half against Penn State up by just one point, despite playing the worst team in the Big Ten conference after dominating some of the league’s best in recent games.
But after the second half got underway with a Nittany Lion miss, sophomore forward Shakira Austin accepted a pass on the left block, backed her opponent down and laid the ball in.
Senior guard Blair Watson sunk a jumper from the left wing on the next Terps’ possession, which was followed by a fast break layup from senior guard Kaila Charles to cap off a 6-0 run to start the third quarter.
Maryland turned the pace up in the second half and raced out to a 106-69 win over Penn State on the road after a lackluster first half.
“Our resiliency,” Jones said was a key factor. “Just our ability to stay locked in or get locked back in to what we’re supposed to be doing and what we should be doing on the defensive end. I think that’s where it starts, and that third quarter really showed it because it led to our offense.”
The victory marks the Terps’ 11th in a row as head coach Brenda Frese’s squad continues its longest winning streak of the season to stay atop the Big Ten standings.
Though the team struggled in the first half, things started out fast for Maryland. Austin batted the opening tip to forward Stephanie Jones, who immediately took it to the basket and opened the scoring with a layup just five seconds in.
Penn State responded by turning up the pressure itself and pulled ahead to a 10-6 lead , forcing Frese to call an early timeout and yell at her team after a lackluster defensive opening to the game.
Out of the timeout, freshman guard Ashley Owusu was able to hit a jumper from the elbow and Diamond Miller knocked down two free throws on the Terps’ ensuing possession to knot the score up at 10-10.
With the Nittany Lions continuing their pressure, Maryland decided to take the ball to the basket and draw fouls — with Owusu and Austin knocking down two free throws each to put the Terps back in front.
The Terps were able to get into the bonus for the final minutes of the first quarter and battled a tough Penn State effort to lead 26-22 after the first 10 minutes.
Similarly to the first frame, Maryland came out firing and widened its lead 10 points, but back-to-back three-pointers from Penn State chopped that lead down to 34-30 with 4:57 left in the first half.
The Nittany Lions continued to fight as the first half drew to a close and took a couple of leads as the game turned into a back-and-forth affair.
Maryland grasped to a 46-45 halftime lead behind 17 points from Jones while Penn State remained afloat thanks to 15 points from junior guard Kamaria McDaniel.
“We were really slow off of our rotation — off the bounce and off the pass,” Frese said. “We were definitely a second slow on everything. I thought we regrouped in the second half to get back to play how we know how play.”
The Terps opened the second half with a 6-0 run and looked to be playing a whole new level of speed compared to the first half.
Maryland seemed to have answer for everything Penn State did, scoring in bunches of four, five and six points back-to-back with just three Nittany Lion points coming in between those efforts.
With 2:40 left in the third quarter, Charles received a long pass from the backcourt and sunk a long two-point jumper from the left wing to answer a Penn State score from just seven seconds earlier.
With a 20-point lead in hand and under a minute left in the third quarter, Maryland stopped a Penn State layup inside and Owusu was able to find Austin inside on the other end for a layup as time expired to give the Terps a 78-56 lead after three quarters.
The Terps opened the fourth quarter with a 10-point run that was capped off by an Austin layup after an over-and-back call on McDaniel of Penn State — pushing the Maryland lead to 32 points.
After Penn State answered with five points of its own, Maryland went on a quick 7-0 run, which included a long-range bomb from senior Sara Vujacic off the bench.
Another late eight-point run began with Charles helping the Terps eclipse the 100-point mark for the fifth time this season and first time in Big Ten play.
Three things to know
1. Poor three-point shooting contributed to the start. Whether it was sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell or Watson, the Terps couldn’t buy a bucket from beyond the arc early. They opened this game with an 0-of-5 effort from behind the arc with Mikesell eventually breaking the negative effort with 1:39 left in the first quarter. The Terps finished the first half 2-of-7 and 5-of-14 on the game.
2. Turnovers also hurt the Terps early. Facing an opponent that averages just eight steals per game, the Lions managed to force the Terps into several early, unforced errors. Maryland came into Sunday’s game atop the Big Ten with a +7.3 turnover differential, but turned the ball over 11 times and had just a +3 margin at the half. The Terps did turn the table in the second half, however, with just three turnovers and finished the game with a +8 margin.
3. Stephanie Jones was the backbone. When no one on the floor could seem to find a rhythm offensively, Jones was one lone outlier for much of Sunday’s contest. As she has often done this season, Jones provided the heartbeat for the Terps early on as the team was in a heated battle — scoring 17 first half points on 7-of-8 shooting and also pulling down six rebounds. She finished with a season-high 21 points on the day, falling just three shy of her career-high as a Terp.
“Steph is — she’s great,” Austin said. “She’s always consistent in practice. She’s a great leader. She’s always talking and giving you stuff that can help you.”