With the season just as young, the Gamecocks took control early and leaned on their star freshman forward, Aliyah Boston, to claim a 63-54 win at Xfinity Center. In what was billed as an early-season showcase, both programs showed spots for improvement if they are to contend for titles come spring, but nonetheless, the game confirmed that South Carolina and Maryland have the talent to do just that.
Five days removed from posting a triple-double in South Carolina’s opener against Alabama State, Boston dominated in the paint Sunday and finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. Another freshman, Maryland guard Ashley Owusu, had a game-high 17 points, but the Terps couldn’t muster a comeback after trailing by as many as 14 in the third quarter.
“We have a lot of lessons to learn out of this,” said Maryland senior Kaila Charles, noting how South Carolina set the pace and outrebounded the Terps 54-38. “It’s early. It’s only the second game of the season, so like I told my teammates, this doesn’t stop our plan of trying to be successful and trying to go as far as we possibly can in the tournament.”
Maryland’s struggles on the boards and 31.4 percent shooting were uncharacteristic, Coach Brenda Frese said. Boston, a 6-foot-5 forward, “impacted so many shots when we got into the paint,” Frese said, and she “probably got in our heads with a lot of the missed layups that we had in this game.” Also, Frese called her team’s defensive performance erratic; similar to its showing on the other end of the court, Maryland failed to play consistently to its potential.
South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley called it a “game of grittiness.” Late in the third quarter, the Terps trimmed South Carolina’s lead to six, but the Gamecocks answered and Maryland never got closer. These tough matchups in the fall, Staley said, will prepare her group for March.
Before this season, South Carolina brought in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, and Maryland’s was third — so this matchup featured plenty of freshman phenoms beyond Boston and Owusu. Five newcomers started: Owusu and Diamond Miller for Maryland and Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Beal for South Carolina.
“They were really up for the challenge,” Staley said of her freshmen. “I felt really comfortable with their body language, what they were saying, their swagger. I didn’t know what that would look like when they stepped on the floor. I knew they would compete. But whether they can execute and get some stuff done, I didn’t know what that would look like.”
On Sunday, it looked like this: The three freshman starters scored 32 points, the team’s dominant shot blocker stymied Maryland’s offense, and South Carolina notched a road win against a top-five team.
Maryland’s young players performed well, too. Frese said Owusu didn’t show her “full package,” and Miller scored 10 points. Charles, the Terps’ leading scorer last season, added 11. Maryland played without junior guard Channise Lewis, who has a torn meniscus. She played in every game last season, starting 13 and averaging 4.2 points.
The Terps’ strong freshman class joined a team that last season won the Big Ten regular season title (those players received rings for that accomplishment before Sunday’s matchup) but lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks fell to eventual champion Baylor in the round of 16.
When Maryland visited South Carolina last season, the Terps left with an emphatic 85-61 win. A year later, Staley called that loss a “true embarrassment on all levels.” But her team improved, and now the roles have reversed: Maryland is left to find answers and take strides forward.
“We played this game last year and beat them by 24 points, and they went further in postseason than we did,” Frese said she told her team in the locker room. “So it’s really your mentality coming out of it for your season, using the body of work to get better come March.”