Maryland women’s basketball beat James Madison, but its offense still looks shaky

Forward Shakira Austin goes up for a shot in Maryland women's basketball's 63-54 loss to South Carolina on Nov. 10, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

When the final buzzer sounded on Maryland women’s basketball’s 70-68 win over James Madison, coach Brenda Frese’s team could breathe a sigh of relief.

In a game where they trailed by as much as 19, the Terps mounted a furious fourth-quarter rally to stun the Dukes. But before that, poor offensive execution and preventable turnovers nearly drove Maryland to its second straight loss.

After scoring 119 in the season opener against Wagner — the most in Frese’s tenure — the Terps endured shooting woes in a 63-54 defeat to South Carolina that carried over to Wednesday’s matchup. By the end of the third quarter against the Dukes, Frese’s squad had gone seven straight quarters without scoring more than 16 points.

A 29-point outburst in the final frame briefly dispelled the concerns, but the inefficiencies were glaring. While still early in the season, Maryland is focused on quickly getting past the issues that resulted in a loss to South Carolina and three quarters of disappointment against James Madison.

“A lot of it was just fading away, not going into their bigs,” forward Shakira Austin said. “The rest was probably just rushed shots, could have got a better shot, could have sealed harder, just little stuff like that that we were able to do in the fourth quarter.”

[Read more: Ashley Owusu caps Maryland basketball’s improbable 70-68 comeback win over James Madison]

Forward Kaila Charles has been at the forefront of the struggles, shooting a woeful 8-of-31 in her past two showings. She’s looked out of sync and consistently forced contested drives to the rim, but her effort was on display with a team-high 10 rebounds.

While the preseason All-American’s 12.3 points per game would be the lowest since her freshman season, Charles’ consistently high energy infects the rest of her teammates on the court. She’s also the first to acknowledge when her team isn’t playing up to its standard, which she says starts by continuing to talk to each other when on the floor.

“[James Madison is] a really good team, they play very well together, but I think it was mostly us on our end on communication,” Charles said. “We weren’t really together and on the same page.”

The Terps struggled to shoot from the free-throw line, too, even during their late resurgence. In the last two contests, Maryland has converted at a 16-for-30 clip from the charity stripe, with two of the heroes against the Dukes being some of the worst offenders.

Austin — who led the charge with 13 points in the fourth — hit only two of her seven attempts from the line, breaking what was a promising 10-for-13 start to her sophomore campaign after shooting 47.9 percent last season.

[Read more: Despite a rough game, Maryland basketball knows Shakira Austin is “going to be a star”]

Guard Ashley Owusu’s game-winning layup sealed the win for the Terps. But while she’s excelled offensively to start her college career — averaging 16.3 points and five assists per game — free throws have been her Achilles’ heel, shooting just 53.3 percent.

Guard Taylor Mikesell set the Maryland single-season record for 3-pointers, with 95 in her freshman season, but she’s off to a slow start as a sophomore. After the first scoreless game of her career against the Gamecocks, Mikesell made only one of her five field goal attempts in the first half against James Madison.

But she kept firing, and the shots started to fall, putting an exclamation point on her eight second-half points with a game-tying 3-pointer with two minutes to go.

“[Shooters have] short-term memory loss. I think that’s the best way to put it,” Mikesell said before playing James Madison. “You miss some shots but the next ones are going to go in, so that’s just how I think about it mentally.”

Maryland’s 18 giveaways in the first three quarters also helped the Dukes stretch their lead to 19 near the start of the final period, most coming from sloppy fastbreak passes and overly aggressive drives to the basket.

Charles led the team with five giveaways, but the Terps only had two and caused seven in the final frame, flipping the script with a full-court trap that led to easy looks on the other end. So while Maryland figured things out offensively with a comeback win against James Madison, the rocky performances of the previous seven quarters leave room for growth.

“With a lot of new players we’re still relatively young when you talk about three freshmen and two sophomores, so just kind of blending that youth with our experience,” Frese said. “We’re still obviously trying to find that chemistry.”

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