As a reward for beating Ohio State for the second time this season, Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese afforded her players a luxury they don’t usually receive on conference road trips: They got to eat dessert.
After up-and-down first halves in eight Big Ten games prior to facing Indiana on Sunday — the No. 11 Terps had only outscored their opponents by eight total points before halftime in conference play — Maryland was used to frequent late-game runs to seal victories.
So the night before facing Indiana, Frese decided to change it up. And after Maryland went on a 14-0 run to take a 40-25 lead into the half — the team’s largest thus far in conference play — the unusual offering may become a road-game staple.
“We gave them some dessert at dinner time. That’s unique on the road,” Frese said. “So of course, after a big dominating win, they’re trying to use it to their advantage to move forward with more dessert.”
Despite boasting a 7-2 conference record — tied with Iowa for second-best in the Big Ten behind Rutgers’ 8-1 — the Terps have frequently stumbled out of the gate in conference games. Before facing the Hoosiers, Maryland had entered the locker room with a lead in only half of its conference games.
And with the Terps holding a narrow one-point edge with seven minutes left in the half on Sunday, it appeared they were headed for another razor-thin margin after the first 20 minutes.
“We came out a little slow,” guard Kaila Charles said. “But we didn’t let that dictate the game.”
Forward Stephanie Jones made sure of that. After a step-back jumper, another lay-in and a finish through contact plus a foul, she had nine points in just three minutes. With the junior’s scoring burst, the Terps used an explosive 14-point run to go up by 15 at the half.
Sunday’s halftime edge was more than twice Maryland’s second-closest lead at the break — seven points in a 75-69 win over Ohio State on Jan. 5. Players attributed the faster start to Saturday’s special treat.
“I think that gave us an extra boost because that sugar got us up and rushing,” Charles said. “It was just a fun little gift we got from our coaches, doing what we’re supposed to do — winning games. … We’ve got to keep it up.”
Whether Frese’s gift was the catalyst of the Terps’ best opening half of conference play has yet to be seen. But to surpass the Scarlet Knights — who beat Maryland, 73-65, on Dec. 31 — and win a Big Ten championship, they’ll need to replicate the dominating first half they played against the Hoosiers.
And if you ask the players, they want Frese to consider making dessert on the road a tradition.
“I think we need dessert every away game,” Jones said. “It would be great.”