Maryland women’s basketball hopes to learn from hectic final minute against Indiana

Ashley Owusu prepares to go around a screen in No. 12 Maryland's 84-80 win over No. 19 Indiana on Jan. 4, 2021, at the Xfinity Center. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Basketball is a game of organized chaos, where artful cutting, precise play design and deft footwork meet players careening into each other for loose balls, ill-advised passes, and seemingly wide-open missed jumpers.

And in the last minute of a closely contested game between No. 12 Maryland women’s basketball and No. 19 Indiana, chaos reigned supreme.

Even though the Terps led from the opening tip, the win over the Hoosiers never felt secure until the final buzzer sounded. Much of the anxiety from College Park supporters came from a 60-second stretch that took over 11 minutes of real-time, a frenzied sequence that saw Maryland make enough clutch plays and free throws to overcome its blunders and escape with a victory.

“Thank goodness we had the buffer that we did,” coach Brenda Frese said. “They made a lot of great plays. You could see the fight in the intensity of both teams wanting to win this game.”

[Ashley Owusu, Diamond Miller pace Maryland women’s basketball to tight win over Indiana, 84-80]

Maryland began that sequence with a 79-73 lead. Chloe Bibby grabbed a rebound and attempted a pass to Diamond Miller. In between the two Terps was Indiana guard Grace Berger.

Berger leapt and deflected the ball with her fingertips but was unable to fully stop the pass, which bounced before landing in the hands of Miller. For the moment, disaster was averted, but the near-miss was a harbinger of things to come.

With about 30 seconds remaining, Maryland had a chance to ice the game with a six-point lead and possession. Ashley Owusu had the ball on the baseline and looked around for a white jersey to pass to, but found none open. With a five-second violation rapidly approaching, Owusu threw a pass to Katie Benzan.

The long pass turned out to be a poor decision. Indiana’s Keyanna Warthen intercepted the pass and started what looked to be an easy fastbreak. It was shaping up to be a momentous play, a turnover and probable quick score that the Hoosiers needed to spur a big comeback.  

But then came Miller, who dashed across the court. Instead of attempting a chasedown block and risking a foul, she jumped vertically and disrupted Warthen just enough that she left the layup short.

“To be honest, I just wanted to distract her. I didn’t want to foul,” Miller said. “So I was just like, let me just run past her and hope she misses, and it went my way. Usually great teams make layups so I really thought she was gonna make it, but she missed.”

Miller secured the miss and was immediately fouled. She headed to the line with an opportunity to push the lead to eight points. But this time, it was her turn to blunder. The sophomore, a 74.4 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, missed both shots.

On the ensuing possession, Berger — who finished with 26 points — came down and hit a fadeaway jumper from the free throw line, making it a four-point game with 18 seconds left.

Frese then made an astute coaching move. In the ensuing possessions, each team would use a timeout after almost every change of possession to either set up a scoring chance, diagram an inbounds play or to set up their defense. In those moments, Frese switched in Benzan for offense and Miller for defense.

“Diamond’s free throw percentages aren’t where they’ve been in the past,” Frese said. “She’s definitely going to improve in that area so we can keep her out on the court, obviously defensively with their length. But late game, you know, when they’re going to be fouling, you got to go with your higher-percentage free throw shooters.”

[With Indiana looming, Maryland women’s basketball is relying on its versatility]

Benzan was a career 88 percent free throw shooter over three seasons at Harvard, and she proved that, going 4-for-4 on key foul shots.

But even those points — which kept the Maryland lead at six with just 11 seconds remaining — didn’t seal the contest for the Terps.

On the ensuing possession, Berger raced down the right side of the court, drawing the attention of both Owusu and Miller, who came over to help. That left Indiana’s Ali Patberg open at the top of the arc, and she drained her only three of the evening with 5.2 seconds remaining.

Maryland was now potentially in danger. Without any timeouts, it couldn’t bring Benzan back into the game. That sent Owusu — a 77.7 percent free throw shooter — to the line, again just needing to make one of two foul shots to send the cardboard fans home happy. The first attempt fell short, and now all the pressure was on her.

The sophomore point guard caught the ball from the referee. She took three dribbles, spun the ball in her hand and transitioned right into her shot motion, dipping down before coming up and firing the ball.

Dagger. Her shot gave the Terps a four-point lead and allowed them to cling to a key victory against a ranked conference opponent, 84-80.

“I was glad we had a 16-point lead to protect us from ourselves,” Frese said. “We’ve got to be tighter, we were fortunate to learn from a win.”

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