No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball rides big first half to beat Ohio State, 85-65

Coach Brenda Frese during Maryland women's basketball's 72-62 win over Ohio State on Jan. 6, 2020. (I'Shea Boyd/The Diamondback)

After Maryland women’s basketball forced Ohio State into 25 turnovers in the teams’ last meeting, guard Blair Watson looked to once again set a defensive tone from the tip.

She caused havoc all over the court for the Buckeyes in the first half. Whether it was blocking post shots or intercepting passing lanes, the senior led the way for her team to take a 22-point edge into the break.

Behind Watson’s nine points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a career high-tying four blocks, Maryland won at Ohio State, 85-65, on Thursday to extend the team’s winning streak to six.

“I thought we did a tremendous job sharing the basketball,” coach Brenda Frese said. “We’re tough to guard when we have five players in double figures, and I thought we were making the easy plays for one another.”

[Read more: Blair Watson’s role is understated, but her defense sets the tone for Maryland basketball]

Donning gold jerseys in honor of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, the Terps came out with the “Mamba Mentality.” Watson set the tone, turning a block into a fastbreak and passing to guard Taylor Mikesell for a 3-pointer to open the scoring.

Following a short stretch of strong defense but poor offense, Mikesell’s second triple opened the game up for the Terps. They went on a 13-2 run in the final five minutes of the opening frame, led by guard Diamond Miller’s seven points off the bench.

And they were led by Watson’s hounding defense, too, which helped force Ohio State into nine turnovers in the first quarter. The Buckeyes rarely got open shots and often fumbled passes out of bounds, failing to compete with the Terps’ intensity and energy.

Forward Shakira Austin, who never returned in her team’s previous win over Northwestern on Jan. 26 after injuring her left ankle in the first quarter, looked 100 percent healthy to start the second period.

[Read more: Without Shakira Austin, Maryland women’s basketball prevailed through team-wide effort]

She scored 11 of her 15 points in the frame, abusing overmatched Buckeye defenders with an array of post moves to either finish or earn free throws. Forward Kaila Charles fed on the sophomore’s energy and also found success in the paint on multiple drives to the basket resulting in open layups.

An Austin steal near the end of the half resulted in a wide-open Watson layup as Maryland’s lead grew to 22 by the break. They didn’t have to press much to force Ohio State into bad shots and giveaways, holding them to just 26.9 percent shooting while the Terps shot 51.4 percent.

Charles took over the third quarter with eight points, but she was a lone bright spot as the Buckeyes won the frame by nine.

Ohio State looked refocused out of halftime, attacking the glass to earn 10 more shot attempts than Maryland, which helped cut its deficit despite a similar shooting percentage to their opponent.

“I thought Ohio State never gave up, they came fighting back in the third quarter,” Frese said. “But I thought our defense really set the tone for the 40 minutes.”

After Austin’s technical foul early in the fourth, the Buckeyes cut the lead to 11. The game was beginning to slip away from Maryland, but forward Stephanie Jones rose to the occasion and snatched control of the contest back in the Terps’ favor.

Off a missed Miller triple, Jones cleared out the lane to secure the rebound and get the putback score. A couple of possessions later, she corralled a pass in mid-air that was tipped by two Buckeyes defenders to get another bucket that pushed the lead to 17 with seven minutes to go.

With a few more made shots from Charles and Mikesell, the Terps held a double-digit lead through the end of the game, sweeping the season series with Ohio State and earning their sixth-straight win.

“Just the [team] mentality it took for us [to win on the road],” Frese said. “Every time we come in here, we have great matchups.”

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