After guard Kayana Traylor scored to give Purdue a 43-34 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter on Monday, the Maryland women’s basketball team found itself in a familiar situation.
The No. 8 Terps were a game removed from overcoming a seven-point deficit in under a minute to beat Minnesota, 71-69, on Thursday, and with a share of the Big Ten title on the line, the squad was facing another uphill battle.
But Maryland’s defense stepped up, and the Boilermakers (17-13, 8-9 Big Ten) didn’t score for nearly eight minutes following Traylor’s lay-in, as the visitors capitalized with a 13-0 run to grab control in the final quarter. And despite an uncharacteristically poor outing offensively, the Terps (25-3, 14-3) held on, 58-55, to clinch a share of the conference championship.
“We had to really fight, especially in the first half,” coach Brenda Frese said. “To hang around to be able to get to that fourth quarter, where we were out of foul trouble.”
In the early stages, Maryland struggled with its lack of depth.
Only eight players dressed for the trip to West Lafayette, Indiana, with forward Brianna Fraser out with an ankle sprain she suffered against the Golden Gophers, and forward Olivia Owens out with a sinus infection.
And less than three minutes in, the Terps’ frontcourt depth took an even bigger hit. Forward Stephanie Jones picked up a pair of early fouls, and until she checked in at the start of the second half, forward Shakira Austin was the only big on the court. Austin managed just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half.
“The injury to Bri Fraser put our depth where we had to play significant minutes in that first half,” Frese said.
Austin, however, made up for it on the defensive end. The freshman — who was recently named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year watch list — tied her season high with eight rejections; she also added 14 boards.
“Purdue had basically four to five players crashing almost every possession,” Austin said of her rebounding. “So stopping them from getting second-chance points was pretty great.”
Without a reliable offensive presence inside, Maryland struggled to find a rhythm in its sets. The squad ended the first period with seven-consecutive misses on a more than three-minute scoreless drought, and Purdue capitalized for an 8-0 run to take a 19-11 lead after 10 minutes.
Guard Kaila Charles, meanwhile, picked up right where she left off from a season-high 29-point outing against Minnesota. With six minutes left before the break, the junior grabbed her own miss to up her rebound total to 10, and with 12 points, she had already secured a double-double with nearly 26 minutes left in the contest. She finished with a game-high 20 points.
Still, Maryland couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end — the team was just 9-for-31 shooting during the first 20 minutes — and Purdue held a 29-23 lead going into the locker room. The 23 points the Terps garnered at the break were the squad’s lowest first-half total of the season.
While Maryland came up short scoring the basketball, it completely shut down guard Karissa McLaughlin — the Boilermakers’ leading scorer at 15.4 points a contest — on the other end. The sophomore finished with just three points and made just one of her 10 attempts.
“Blair [Watson] and Kaila both did a tremendous job just locking her down defensively,” Frese said.
To start the second half, Maryland was more solid from the field, but a new blight arose.
The Terps had four turnovers in the first three minutes of the new half, and midway through the third period, the visitors were already up to six giveaways after having seven in the entire opening 20 minutes.
And despite starting the half shooting 3-for-5, Maryland was unable to contain Purdue as its deficit swelled to 39-29. Entering the final period, the Boilermakers led 43-37 behind a 14-8 turnover edge.
But that’s when the Terps’ defense stepped up even further.
Where Charles upped her level in the clutch against the Golden Gophers on Thursday, the Maryland defense — which has allowed the third-fewest points the Big Ten — carried the torch in the crucial moments against Purdue.
Behind a stifling defense that forced the Boilermakers into six giveaways and held the squad to just 3-for-12 shooting in the deciding quarter — including an eight-minute scoring drought spanning parts of the third and fourth frames — Maryland escaped a last-second comeback attempt to beat Purdue, 58-55, and clinch a share of its fourth Big Ten title in five tries.
“We’re finally starting to get things coming together, especially with our defense leading to our offense,” Charles said. “So being able to have at least a piece of [a conference championship] is just a blessing.”