STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Maryland women’s basketball team learned Friday night that, even if you’re ranked No. 4 in the country, it doesn’t make you immune from the perils of an extended holiday break.
But in their Big Ten opener, the Terrapins also reminded a conference foe just how stingy their defense can be. After three quarters of sluggishness that saw Penn State take a one-point lead into the final period, the Terps unleashed 10 minutes of lockdown defense to pull away for a 77-61 victory on the road.
Maryland held the Nittany Lions’ efficient offense to just four points in the fourth quarter at Bryce Jordan Center, the third time this season it has held an opponent to four points or fewer for an entire period.
Maryland’s ninth-ranked scoring defense accomplished the feat against Coppin State in the season opener and against George Washington early in November, but Penn State was different. The Terps controlled those two nonconference games from the opening tip. On Friday, Maryland needed to flip a switch.
“I thought it was a wake-up call for us. You see what conference play looks like,” Coach Brenda Frese said.
When asked whether the problem through the first three quarters was shaking off rust from an eight-day break between games or new issues cropping up, Frese said it was a blend of both.
“You’re not exactly in that rhythm two days of practice coming back off the break, first Big Ten game for your two freshmen, what that looks like — the level of physicality is a lot greater because you can be matched athletically as well as physically,” Frese said. “Our vets did a tremendous job helping us weather the course.”
Maryland (12-0, 1-0 Big Ten) trailed 57-56 heading into the fourth quarter, primarily because of subpar defense, a few careless but critical turnovers and Penn State guard Teniya Page’s 22 points.
Page, a senior, led the Nittany Lions with 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including a trio of three-pointers. Penn State sophomore Kamaria McDaniel had 16 points off the bench as the Nittany Lions’ offense made key plays through three periods. But Page made just one field goal and McDaniel was held scoreless in the final period.
The Nittany Lions’ final field goal — a jumper from Amari Carter — came with 8:49 left to play.
“I was getting to my spots and shooting the ball confidently. In the fourth quarter, I kind of went away from that,” Page said. “I started rushing things and trying to get to the basket instead of taking a dribble to gather myself and try to finish. I was falling and tripping over my own feet and sometimes theirs.”
Forward Stephanie Jones and wing Kaila Charles led the charge defensively. The veterans started pressuring the ball in the fourth quarter and played with more energy. Jones, who guarded Page for much of the second half, focused more on boxing out in the post and stepping to a teammate to be a second defender.
Penn State (7-5, 0-1) had just five of its 23 points in the paint in the second half. Those defensive stops also allowed Maryland to play at the quick pace the team prefers and find a rhythm in transition.
“Energy is important, especially when we’re not at home,” Charles said. “. . . We just huddled up and were like: ‘You know, we’re a little flat; we’re giving them the confidence. Let’s just come together.’ . . . We were able to do that.”
Charles led the Terps with 23 points, 16 of which came in the second half, and Jones added 17 points. While the veterans led the way, Maryland’s freshmen did their jobs as well: Taylor Mikesell had 13 points, and center Shakira Austin had a team-high 11 rebounds.
The win was Maryland’s sixth straight against Penn State; the Terps haven’t lost to the Nittany Lions since 2003, and they haven’t lost their Big Ten opener since they joined the league five seasons ago. Maryland continues Big Ten play at home Monday against Rutgers.