Diamond Miller streaked up the left side, lost one Penn State defender with a pair of quick crossovers, then evaded another by swinging the ball over the Nittany Lion’s head while going into a Euro step. The Maryland senior finished with a reverse layup, spinning the ball off the glass and sprawling out of bounds.
The sequence left the Xfinity Center crowd in awe and summed up the night for the No. 8 Terrapins, who led for more than 39 of the 40 minutes Monday and rolled to an 87-66 victory. The win was Maryland’s 13th in a row over Penn State.
It could have been easy for Maryland (18-4, 9-2 Big Ten) to overlook the Nittany Lions (12-10, 3-8), especially considering the Terps’ grueling upcoming schedule. But they got dialed in early and never relinquished control, closing the first quarter on a 20-2 run that gave them a 29-9 lead after 10 minutes. The run was spearheaded by senior Abby Meyers (a game-high 24 points) and Miller (14).
Maryland has won five in a row and 11 of 12. The Terps’ ranking is a season high, and considering what comes next, they appear to be finding their stride at the right time.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” guard Shyanne Sellers said. “I don’t think our best basketball has come yet. We haven’t played a full 40-minute game where we are exceptional.”
What comes next is the most treacherous stretch of conference play on Maryland’s schedule, starting Thursday with a trip to No. 6 Iowa (17-4, 9-1). The Terps host No. 10 Ohio State (19-3, 8-3) on Sunday, and the stretch also includes a home game against Illinois (17-5, 7-4), which fell out of the rankings this week. The conference schedule wraps with rematches against the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Sellers said. “Just, obviously, great opportunities ahead. It really comes down to just being the most disciplined team.”
The Terps don’t control their own destiny. No. 4 Indiana (20-1, 10-1), which beat Maryland in Bloomington on Jan. 12, is in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten. If the Hoosiers win out — by no means a lock considering their schedule — the crown is theirs.
Meyers continued to put a recent shooting slump behind her, showing off her offensive versatility by scoring on all three levels and setting up teammates with slick passes. She finished with a team-high six rebounds and three assists.
“Play my role and keep it simple,” Meyers said. “And bring the energy. That’s what I keep telling myself — not to overthink it.
“You’re going to have a lot of different games in the season where there’s ups and downs. But for me, as a leader, being aggressive on defense and having that control on the defensive end when offense may not be rolling — that’s kind of what I tell myself.”
Miller was a force early with eight first-quarter points before calling it a night with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Sellers did most of her work in the second half and ended up with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.
Makenna Marisa led Penn State, which is winless on the road against Big Ten opponents, with 23 points. Taniyah Thompson added 17.
“It’s really hard when you’re playing against a team like Maryland, obviously a top-10 team,” Penn State Coach Carolyn Kieger said, “to get down in that deficit and then try to claw your way back.”
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s win:
On the defense
The victory continued a recent defensive trend for the Terps, who kept Penn State in single digits in each of the first two quarters. Defense has been a hallmark of this five-game winning streak, especially early. Maryland has held its opponents to single digits in four quarters during the streak, and no team has reached 30 points in the first half.
“The trust, the connectedness — it’s taken time to be able to mesh so many new players together and teach the defense,” Coach Brenda Frese said. “It’s starting to really click. Our effort and our energy is a lot greater. So I think the two are playing off of each other.
“We’re playing a lot harder. We know that is going to be really important, but I think our rotations and, defensively, where we want to be has really improved. You’re seeing a blend of both.”
The Big Ten is the lone conference with four teams in the top 10 in the Associated Press rankings: Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Ohio State represent the league. Two other conferences (the SEC and the Pac-12) have two apiece.
Miller was named to the late-season watch list, which trims the list to 20 players, for the Wooden Award, which is given to the most outstanding player in the country. The two-time all-Big Ten guard leads the team in points and rebounds.