With 6:14 remaining in the third quarter, No. 7 Maryland women’s basketball’s defense continued to look just as impenetrable as it had all game for the visiting Purdue Boilermakers.
Having shot less than 25 percent from three-point range to that point in the game, Purdue guard Dominique Oden forced up another contested three-pointer that fell harmlessly into the hands of Stephanie Jones.
The senior forward immediately dished it to freshman guard Ashley Owusu, who pushed the ball up the right side floor before lobbing it up to sophomore forward Shakira Austin for the alley-oop to stretch the Terp lead to a game-high 19 points.
Maryland went on to out-score the Boilermakers 53-23 in the second half of Tuesday night’s game, allowing its fewest points in a Big Ten game since Jan. 2018 to win its 13th straight contest and send its seniors off with an 88-45 win on senior night.
“I love defense,” senior guard and defensive captain Blair Watson said. “When our team has a really good defensive night, I’m hyped. I’m super excited and I think we need that going into March for sure ... At the way that we’re going and the way that we’re trending that [future opponents] should be nervous for us.”
With Sara Vujacic inserted into the starting lineup in lieu of Austin for senior night, Maryland’s starting five of Taylor Mikesell-Blair Watson-Kaila Charles-Jones-Vujacic was one of the smallest the team has trotted out this season to begin a game.
The Boilermakers wasted no time attacking inside the paint as a result, with their 6’4 forward Fatou Diagne depositing two easy layups at the rim before Austin was summoned from the bench.
But Vujacic managed to make her mark on the early part of the game prior to being subbed, sinking a catch-and-shoot three pointer from the corner with 6:35 remaining in the first quarter to extend the Terps’ lead to cut the early deficit to 8-7.
Maryland locked down Purdue for much of the second half of the period, holding it to just four points from the 6:53 mark on, eventually finishing the first on a 10-0 run fueled in large part by a pair of contested buckets at the rim for Austin to give the Terps a seven-point cushion going into the second quarter.
Averaging 15.5 points per game over her last four games, last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week in Jones continued her run of consistency in the first half of Tuesday night’s contest. After scoring a team-high six points in the first quarter, she posted another half-dozen within a span of 56 seconds in the second to give her 12 points with still over half of the second still left to play.
“They can’t be worried about me because we have other teammates that can score,” Charles said of the pressure taken off of her as a result of Jones’ scoring recently. “We need everybody to contribute we need everybody to be hot, we need Steph to get us right and have that spark when she starts in.
But it was Owusu that stole the show on Senior Night, putting her handles on display for the Terp faithful at the Xfinity Center down the stretch of the first half. With 32 seconds left in the second, Owusu collected a loose ball and put on a sweet spin move on a Purdue defender before charging up the court and pulling up from the top of the key, draining the mid-range jumper to extend Maryland’s lead to 35-22 at the break.
As Maryland’s defense forced Purdue’s shooting percentage to plummet below 30 percent by the halfway point of the second quarter, the long scoring droughts that plagued the Boilermakers in the first half continued to persist into the second. Purdue went without a field goal for almost four minutes in the third period, with the Terps going on to out-score them 11-1 over that span to take a 23-point lead — its largest of the game to that point.
The Terps went on to double up on the Boilermakers in the third quarter, out-scoring Purdue 28-14 to take a 63-34 lead into the final quarter of play.
Maryland’s defense continued to exert its supremacy into the fourth quarter even as Frese began to empty her bench, holding the Boilermakers to 4-of-16 shooting from the field and just nine total points in the period to eventually extend its lead to over 40 points. Turnovers continued to pile up as well, as the Terps forced six more to put Purdue over 20 turnovers in what was the ideal 40-minute performance from the Terps.
Three things to know
1. Purdue is the fourth Maryland opponent to score less than 50 points. The Terps have been anchored by its dominant defense all season, but for certain opponents it’s been a nightmare trying to score on Maryland. Four opponents now have failed to surpass 50 points against the Terps this season, showing just how difficult a task it can be to score against them this season.
2. Turnovers helped keep Purdue in it early. The Terps are not typically a team that’s prone to turn the ball the over, but the Boilermaker defense made it difficult for Maryland to keep a firm hold of the ball on Tuesday night. The team committed 12 first half turnovers, just two off their average for an entire game, but eventually cleaned things up in the second half by finishing with just 15 total for the game.
“The first half we had way too many turnovers,” Frese said. “You can’t have 12 turnovers, especially the unforced ones we had this game, if you wanna make a run late in March, if you wanna win the Big Ten tournament.”
3. Diamond Miller continued to perform. Despite it being senior night, the freshman guard Diamond Miller showed out once again. Posting scoring lines of 16 and 12 in her last two games, tonight’s effort 12-point effort made it three straight double-figure performances for Miller while likely proving that she’s deserving of bench minutes in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
“Diamond’s gotten comfortable,” Frese said. “We were waiting for the game to slow down for Diamond and she just had to get comfortable. We’ve obviously had a lot of success in the Big Ten tournament and if you wanna be there that last day standing on that podium, three games in three days takes an entire team.”