The Maryland women’s basketball team started Thursday night’s game at Xfinity Center on a down note and things never improved.
As the Terrapins rose for the national anthem against Michigan State, sophomore guard Blair Watson stood in her black warm-up suit, leaning on a crutch. A few minutes earlier, the Terrapins had announced Watson would miss the remainder of the season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in practice Wednesday.
Without their second-leading scorer, the No. 11 Terrapins came out flat and were dealt an 82-68 loss, their first defeat since Nov. 19 and their first to Michigan State in 11 meetings. With the upset, the Spartans joined Ohio State as the second program in the league to beat Maryland since the Terps joined the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season.
“They came out aggressive, hungry, really prepared, I thought their size and aggressiveness really took us back on our heels in the first half,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “I think this is obviously an example though, when you talk about the depth of the Big Ten.”
Maryland (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) was disjointed on offense without Watson.
The sophomore had developed into a dependable shooter for the young Terps, a sidekick to leading-scoring Kaila Charles. Averaging 13.8 points, she was particularly dangerous from the perimeter, where she led the team with 63 three-pointers in 17 games and shot 44.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Eleanna Christinaki started in Watson’s place and the Terps shot 39 percent from the floor and 29 percent from the three-point line, below their usual average of 39 percent from the perimeter.
With its guards out of sync, Maryland’s transition offense waned, forcing the team to rely on its frontcourt players. Junior forward Brianna Fraser scored a team-high 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting and had eight rebounds before she fouled out in the fourth quarter, and forward Stephanie Jones had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Christinaki, who found out she was starting during warmups before the game, had 13. Charles managed only nine points but led all players with 11 rebounds.
The Terrapins’ defense was lax from the start and Michigan State took advantage. The Spartans (13-5, 3-2) shot 45 percent from the floor and were led by the fiery 5-foot-5 guard Taryn McCutcheon, who posted a career-high 25 points. Guard Shay Colley had 17 and Sidney Cooks had 10.
Michigan State Coach Suzy Merchant said the win would be good for morale for a team dealing with its own slew of injures including two players out with ACL tears. Merchant said Colley was a game-time decision because she has eight stitches in her foot.
“Maryland’s a really good team, and winning here is never easy for anybody. To do it on their home floor — Maryland hasn’t been kind to us,” Merchant said.
Michigan State’s aggressiveness unsettled the Terps from the start. They rushed their shots on offense as they tried to find a rhythm with Christinaki, who became the only bright spot in an otherwise torpid first-half offense.
The Greek national led the team with 10 points at intermission mainly by force of will, taking aggressive drives to the basket through a clogged paint.
“It was a difficult day for all of us,” Christinaki said.
Charles was the only other scorer able to get a few good shots up — she had six points at halftime. Maryland shot 36 percent from the floor to Michigan State’s 43 percent from the field at intermission, compounding poor offense with uncharacteristic errors. The Terps had 10 turnovers in the first half, four of which came in the final four minutes of the first quarter, took sloppy layups on the move and were loose on the defensive end.
They ended up giving up 14 points on 24 turnovers.
That discombobulation continued into the third quarter, as Maryland committed two turnovers in the first two minutes after halftime and missed its lone field goal attempt as the Spartans racked up five quick points to take a 10-point lead. Maryland got within one point by grouping a big defensive stop with a three-pointer from Kristen Confroy and a steal and then a layup from Jones with 4:36 left in the period, but the Spartans found the gas pedal and closed the quarter with a 10-0 run, capped when Colley sliced through the defense for a driving layup to put the Spartans up 12.
Maryland never significantly narrowed the gap after that.
“We better get used to it,” Frese said of Michigan State’s aggression. “It’s not going away. That’s what you’re going to see every night, and I don’t think we responded well to it at all. I thought we got caught up in the officiating, they just let them play. They let both teams play.
“So, they have the blueprint now, that’s what they’re going to face every night, and we have to be better out of it. We have to do a better job of sharing the basketball and being patient instead of thinking off of the first hit.”