Following Maryland women’s basketball’s tight victory over Penn State on Dec. 28, coach Brenda Frese hoped the slugfest would be a “wake-up call” for the highly-ranked squad.
But after suffering an upset loss to Rutgers on Monday and tied with Ohio State late in the fourth quarter, the Terps were still sleep-walking three games into Big Ten play.
Guard Taylor Mikesell snapped them out of it by drilling a corner 3-pointer for a four-point lead, and No. 4 Maryland converted 5-of-6 shots from the foul line in the final two minutes to hold on for a 75-69 win over Ohio State.
“We’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” Frese said. “We showed a lot about our character down the stretch, especially in the fourth quarter. … That was the difference in the game.”
Mikesell didn’t have a 3-pointer in the first three quarters but hit two in the fourth, first to give the Terps a one-point lead with about five minutes to play and another a couple of minutes later.
Mikesell finished the game at the free throw line, polishing off an 11-point second half that finished what guard Kaila Charles had started. Charles has been inconsistent on offense at times this season, but the junior came out of the gate firing, scoring 17 points before halftime.
Charles scored nine of her game-high 24 points in the first quarter, but the Terps trailed 11-8 midway through the opening period, needing a buzzer-beating three-pointer by guard Sarah Myers to lead 20-19 entering the second.
Ohio State (5-8, 1-3 Big Ten) opened the second quarter on an 8-0 run to take a then game-high eight point advantage, and Maryland (13-1, 2-1) appeared to be reeling on the defensive end against the lowest-scoring Big Ten team, which lost its starting five and top-six scorers from last year’s conference tournament championship team.
Maryland quickly countered the second-quarter burst. And after forward Stephanie Jones scored through contact and converted the free throw to complete a three-point play, the Terps led 32-31 with four minutes left in the half behind a 12-4 run.
Maryland’s pressure forced Ohio State into four giveaways in the final two minutes — 12 total in the half — and Charles added eight points during the final stretch of the half to propel the Terps to a 43-36 at the break.
But unlike it had against weaker opposition prior to conference play, Maryland couldn’t shake the Buckeyes.
And after a three-pointer by guard Adreana Miller gave the Buckeyes a 56-53 lead with 2:39 left in the third quarter, the Terps found themselves deadlocked in yet another conference slog.
And for the third consecutive conference game, Maryland traversed much of the second half without forward Shakira Austin, its leading rebounder.
The Terps, who rank fifth in the NCAA in rebound margin, were surprisingly outrebounded by Rutgers 38-28 in their upset loss Monday, and Austin played just three minutes after the break. And while Maryland managed to outrebound Ohio State 40-31, Austin failed to register a point on 0-for-6 shooting, and she logged just three minutes after halftime.
Forward Dorka Juhasz dominated Austin, who failed to hit the rim on either of her two attempts to begin the contest. The 6-foot-4 Juhasz led the Buckeyes with 18 and 10 boards to complete a double-double, and the Terps had to defend the freshman by committee in Austin’s absence after halftime.
“We just kinda locked in,” said Jones, who finished with 16 points and was the primary defender on Juhasz in the final 20 minutes. “Just making her moves hard and just knowing where she’s at and boxing her out.”
Still, Juhasz scored eight second-half points, and Maryland was outscored 22-14 in the third period. With a little over five minutes left to play in the final quarter, the Terps trailed 62-61.
But Mikesell responded with her second clutch three-pointer to give the Terps a 70-66 edge with four minutes left, and then came up big from the foul line to overcome a shaky performance against the Buckeyes on Saturday and avoid a second consecutive upset loss.
“We got exposed in the Rutgers game rebounding and just all-around effort,” Mikesell said. “Every day we’re trying to get better. We’re still learning. Every day is a process.”