The Maryland women’s basketball team had two things weighing on it Sunday afternoon against Penn State.
First was the bad taste left from the No. 9 Terps’ previous game, when they looked hapless during a road loss Thursday against Michigan State. Then there was the foul memory of the Terps’ first meeting with Penn State this season, an upset scare last month in which Maryland needed a dominant fourth quarter to avoid a loss in its Big Ten opener.
The Terps overcame both Sunday at Xfinity Center with a 79-67 win over the Nittany Lions.
“Following the [Michigan State] loss, Coach [Brenda Frese] challenged us the next day in film [study] to have more energy, for the leaders and veterans [to] be more vocal, lead the team, so I feel like we all learned something from that day,” junior guard Kaila Charles said. “We executed it in practice. … We had a lot of energy, we were competitive, we were dominating our scout team, and I think it just carried over today.”
Freshman guard Taylor Mikesell led four Maryland players in double figures with a career-high 23 points, including five three-pointers, but the Terps (16-2, 5-2) didn’t break away until late in the third quarter. A spark from bigs Shakira Austin (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Brianna Fraser (13 points) finally swung momentum in Maryland’s favor.
The pair provided enough muscle to overwhelm Penn State in the paint, where the Terps outscored the Nittany Lions 40-28.
Penn State’s young post players, including freshman center Lauren Ebo, a D.C. native and former teammate of Austin’s at Riverdale Baptist, struggled to match Fraser, Austin and Stephanie Jones. When the Nittany Lions (9-9, 2-5) switched to zone defense, Mikesell simply hit a three.
“When their posts are playing that well, it gets to be a pick your poison,” Penn State Coach Coquese Washington said.
Fraser provided aggressiveness in the paint, fighting her way past a double-team with 2:04 left in the third quarter to tie the score at 51 and start an 8-0 Maryland run that got the Terps all the space they needed. A jumper from Charles gave Maryland a 57-51 lead heading to the fourth, and the Terps widened the gap from there as Penn State’s offense faded.
Fraser’s 13 points followed a 22-point performance at Michigan State, where she and Mikesell were the only Maryland players in double figures.
“My teammates are just giving me confidence. … They talk to me every day, and they’re trying to send me out the right way,” said Fraser, a senior.
Added Charles: “She energizes our team, and when she’s doing well, we’re all doing well. We’re following her footsteps, so it’s great to see her dominating because we know she can do that. We’ve seen it in practice, and everybody’s starting to see it now. I’m just glad she’s starting to be herself and playing her game.”
Maryland started with a strong first quarter, a marked difference from the teams’ first meeting. In that game, Penn State led for three quarters, only for the Terps to rally to a victory in the fourth.
This time, the Nittany Lions took the floor without leading scorer Teniya Page, who had 24 points against Maryland in December but missed most of the first quarter Sunday after reportedly breaking a team rule. Page still finished with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Penn State missed its first eight field goals in her absence, but its strong defense meant Maryland’s lead was just 9-5 when she checked in with 3:30 left in the quarter. The Terps stretched their lead to 13 at the end of the period, but with Page running the offense from the get-go at the start of the second quarter, the Nittany Lions controlled the pace and pulled even by halftime.
“She’s so talented,” Frese said. “Off the bounce, in transition, you saw even at times between [junior guard Blair Watson] and Kaila defensively on her, she just makes tough plays, and you have to bring so much attention to her defensively that that allows other players to get offensive rebounds, putbacks, some duck-ins inside.”
Although Frese said she was pleased with how her team bounced back from the loss at Michigan State, Maryland is still hunting consistency in Big Ten competition, which is proving to be perhaps the most challenging the Terps have faced during their time in the conference.
Over the next six weeks, the Terps’ schedule features three road games against ranked teams and a date with No. 23 Minnesota at home.
“A big piece right now is still the consistency factor,” Frese said. “We won three out of four quarters today, and we haven’t had very many games that I could think of that were 40-minute games. I’m not saying perfection, just not having a mentality where you lock out and have some turnovers back-to-back or some breakdowns defensively. So that’s the big picture of where we’re trying to get to, but we’re not quite there yet.”
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