Following forward Lauren Ebo’s 1-for-2 trip at the free throw line to give Penn State a 51-49 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter, Maryland women’s basketball found itself in a familiar position.
In the Terps’ previous meeting with the Nittany Lions on Dec. 28, they completed an 18-0 run to secure a 77-61 victory after trailing early in the fourth quarter.
And just as in that matchup, No. 9 Maryland delivered on Sunday.
Forward Brianna Fraser finished through contact to level the score on the next possession, and the senior’s lay-in to kick off the fourth quarter capped off a 10-0 run to grab control of the game. And Maryland overcame an up-and-down offensive performance to defeat Penn State, 79-67.
“We started the game strong, and I’m really pleased with how we were able to come out,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Our next step is being able to sustain that for 40 minutes. … But loved the response out of the locker room.”
Coming off a dominating defeat to No. 17 Michigan State, 77-60, on Thursday, the Terps benefitted from the absence of a regular Nittany Lion starter to begin the game.
Penn State (9-9, 2-5 Big Ten) guard Teniya Page came into the game second in the Big Ten with a 20.2 points per game average, and in the Nittany Lions’ previous matchup with Maryland (16-2, 5-2), she torched the Terps for a game-high 24 points on 10-of-16 from the field.
Due to a team rule violation, however, Page didn’t earn the starting nod.
Even with the early-game personnel edge, Maryland was unable to capitalize. When Page, who still finished with a team-high 20 points, finally saw the floor at the 3:31 mark in the first quarter, the Terps’ glacial first-quarter start offensively had only afforded them a 9-5 lead.
The Terps immediately responded with a quick run to grab control, as they ended the quarter on a 14-3 run to take a 21-8 lead into the second period.
“Coach challenged us to have more energy [after the loss Thursday],” said guard Kaila Charles, who finished with 19 points and nearly notched a double-double with nine boards.
Early on, Maryland appeared to be heeding Frese’s words, but its rapid offensive burst was short-lived before halftime.
Maryland’s offensive inconsistencies, which have come to light at various points throughout conference play, continued to hurt the team in the first half. And after Page swished a three-pointer from the wing to level the bout at 27-all with 4:18 left before the break, Penn State had completely flipped the game behind a 19-6 start to the second quarter.
“In the Michigan State game we were in-and-out of focus,” said guard Taylor Mikesell, who finished with a game-high 23 points and made 5-of-9 shots from behind the arc. “We showed it a little bit in the second quarter, but we came out strong in the first quarter and covered it up in the third and fourth.”
By the time Mikesell was stripped at the top of the key for an easy transition lay-in by guard Siyeh Frazier, the Nittany Lions led 35-31 with a minute left in the half, prompting a frustrated Frese to call a timeout to rally the troops.
Following an explosive 27-14 second quarter by Penn State, the score was level at 35-35 at the intermission.
It didn’t get much better for Maryland offensively in the short-term.
When Page finished through contact and converted a foul shot to convert the old-fashioned three-point play, the Terps’ narrow post-halftime lead became a 44-39 deficit after a 9-0 run. Then, trailing 51-49, the Terps were in need of another rapid offensive string to tilt the game in their favor once again.
The 10-point run that followed gave the Terps a 59-51 lead early in the final frame, and with the late-game edge, they finally appeared to be comfortable on the offensive end of the floor.
“A big piece right now is still the consistency factor,” Frese said. “We haven’t put many games together that are 40-minute games. … That’s the big picture of where we’re trying to get, but we’re not there yet.”
And after a somewhat shaky offensive performance, Maryland finished the game with a blistering 66.7 percent in the fourth quarter, and the home squad pulled away behind 44-point second-half scoring output to dispatch Penn State, 79-67, on Sunday.
“Every team is trying to get to the Big Ten championship,” Fraser said. “A lot of competition is there for us, and it helps us to get better.”