The Maryland women’s basketball team has perfected the art of making what should be a boring second half look more exciting than any other part of the game.
On Saturday morning, James Madison stayed close to its host, even leading Maryland by three after the first quarter.
But by the end of the third quarter, the Terps buried the Dukes so deep they could no longer see the sun, drubbing the visitors, 101-59, delivering their largest margin of victory this season (42 points). It was a game added this past week to supplement two cancellations on Maryland’s schedule.
Maryland (5-1) surpassed 100 points for the third time this season, remained unbeaten at home and won its fourth straight.
“The level goes a lot higher in Big Ten Conference play,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “So, you know, for us it is just sustaining it, through our film work through our work in the weight room, you know, on the court with practices, understanding what lies ahead, you know, with so many conference games remaining.”
Pandemic-related cancellations disturbed Maryland’s chances to establish a rhythm in past weeks, as the Terps had played just two games before Saturday this month. Now, they’ll take takes a two-week break before visiting Penn State on Dec. 23 because No. 23 Ohio State had to postpone Tuesday’s game.
In that “new normal,” Frese appreciates the games that are played and the practices that in some ways have become like games for her squad.
“Every team’s going through it,” Frese said. “For us, we’re just valuing the fact that we haven’t been shutdown. That would be a tougher element we’re hoping we don’t have to deal with. But if we do, we’ll handle it just as we have all season long.”
After a thrilling performance her last time at home when she shot 9-for-15 against Towson for a career-high 25 points, sophomore Ashley Owusu’s spark flickered at Rutgers, when she made just four field goals. On Saturday, the 6-foot guard doubled her accuracy, hitting 60% from field goal range for a team-high 19 points. Sophomore Diamond Miller became Maryland’s second leading scorer in just 23 minutes of play with 18 points and six rebounds.
Six players scored in double figures and three Terps netted double-doubles on Saturday: senior transfer Chloe Bibby collected 17 points and 10 rebounds, freshman Faith Masonius had 14 points and 12 boards, and forward Mimi Collins had 14 and 11.
Masonius and Collins knew they had “big shoes to fill,” Masonius said, without star freshman Angel Reese (St. Frances) on the court.
“Me and Faith took it to heart,” Collins said. “We know Angel is such a great rebounder and scorer. Understanding that we have to take up most of the rebounding that we did, I think me and Faith did a successful job doing it.”
Maryland also improved in the little things, recording its lowest team fouls (4) this season and second lowest turnovers (11). The Terps also had 22 assists.
“I think you can make everyone’s job a lot easier when you’re just so unselfish,” Frese said. “That’s why … you get six players in double figures because nobody’s having to force a shot.”
The Dukes nipped at the heels of a Maryland squad struggling with its shooting for most of the first quarter (31.8% on field goals). Other than Owusu, who drilled 3 of 6 shots, typically hot-fingered players mostly put up a basket or fewer in their attempts.
Defense kept the Terps afloat as Maryland guards limited James Madison to about half the attempts that the hosts had. However, when a Duke did make her way to the basket, she made it with twice the efficiency of a Terp (50%). With just over a minute left, freshman guard Jamia Hazell swished to the box and flipped the lead to Dukes’ hands with her jumper for a 19-16 first-quarter lead.
“We really just focused on winning the next three [quarters] because it’s within ourselves that we really just got to focus and come out strong,” Masonius said.
Senior guard Katie Benzan, who made six 3-pointers against Towson, began to thaw in the second quarter, as she retrieved the lead for Maryland off a layup in the thick of James Madison guards and then drained her first 3-pointer. Ice continued to melt around the Terps, who ran on an 11-point unchallenged stretch, as shooters like forwards Collins and Masonius added their input in the net.
By the time the Dukes popped in a point from the foul line, Maryland carved a double-digit advantage.
Masonius said the Terps wanted to focus on shaking their growing pattern of coming into the third quarter slow.
That, they did.
After Frese hooked Miller out in the first half after the sophomore earned two fouls in the first six minutes, Miller didn’t return until the start of the third quarter. When she did, she returned as a fury, wrestling balls into the hoop off rebounds, curling rapid layups and bopping balls out of Duke hands to throw eight points on the board.
Frese kept Miller on the floor as the other starters sat.
“We challenged her at halftime. I thought she understood trying to be patient, because sometimes Diamond wants to get it all back at once. She’s super passionate and competitive and wants to be on the floor,” Frese said. “We need her to be on the floor. But I thought she had a terrific response, you know, out of the foul trouble, to not let it impact her second half.”
Combined with a couple treys from Benzan (12 points) and support from the floor, Maryland cruised to a 12-point run. Fittingly, the ball hopped into Miller’s hands as the buzzer sounded, with the Terps leading the Dukes, 73-41.
Zoe Young, a redshirt freshman out of Des Moines, Iowa, who was ESPN’s eighth-ranked guard in the country, made her first return to basketball after missing the 2019-20 season with a torn ACL. She hit her first college layup in the fourth quarter, bringing every Terp to their feet — including Reese, whose joy for her teammate needed no crutches.
“Just seeing her and seeing a smile on her face — It’s just, it’s everything,” Collins said of Young. “And we’ve just been hyping her up in practice and everything else and pushing her and she got her opportunity. And I think she did a great job.”