Diamond Miller was ecstatic. She looked around the throng of teammates surrounding her and found Ashley Owusu. The pair were gleeful as they began pushing each other, trying to process what had just happened. Angel Reese came over, and she and Miller linked up for an enthusiastic shoulder bump.
The celebration was on because the Maryland women’s basketball team had just secured an outright Big Ten regular season title after a 88-61 victory over Penn State. Reese threw confetti in the air before hoisting the trophy with Mimi Collins.
The team had cut down the nets, a rarity for regular season titles, but head coach Brenda Frese did so intentionally to honor doing this in a pandemic season.
“We want to cherish this body of work that our players and staff and everybody has put in,” Frese said. “We just don’t want to take it for granted.”
Collins was part of an early surge for the Terps, scoring 10 points in a frame where they would build a 12 point lead.
“I just have great teammates,” Collins said. “My teammates were finding me in transition and they were finding me in the post, we played in and out on very well.”
Maryland’s continuously improving defense was similarly effective Saturday afternoon, forcing 12 turnovers in the first half and finishing with 23. Head coach Brenda Frese’s squad made sure to turn those defensive plays into offensive opportunities, scoring 28 points off turnovers for the game.
Penn State wasn’t able to maintain a great deal of offensive efficiency for the contest, either. The Nittany Lions shot just 37 percent from the field, partly due to their high three-point volume. In the first half alone, they took 19 threes and made just two — and finished the game shooting 31 percent from behind the arc.
After the first quarter, Penn State began to rally. The Nittany Lions played fast, throwing long dangerous passes in transition — barely keeping players inbounds. But those ambitious attempts worked, and after a three that banked in, they narrowed the Terps’ lead to just eight.
Maryland stabilized heading into halftime with an Ashley Owusu pull up and a pair of Chloe Bibby buckets, the first on a steal, and the second an offensive rebound and eventual jumper.
Owusu concluded her second regular season with another quietly steady performance, scoring 12 points and adding 4 assists.
But some of her play was anything but subdued.
Late in the second quarter, she drove into the paint, using a behind the back dribble at the three point line to get past one defender. With navy jerseys surrounding her, she pump-faked before stepping through a Nittany Lion to score on a floater.
And Owusu and co were consistent enough to build a steady lead, with the Terps up 44-32 at the break.
After Penn State’s Shay Hagans scored a layup to open the second half, it looked like the Nittany Lions may have a chance to uncork an upset.
“They gave us everything they could,” Frese said.
Instead, the Terps rattled off a game-sealing 10-0 run, punctuated by Diamond Miller. After a Penn State missed three, an offensive rebound tip landed right in Miller’s hands, and with the rest of the defense behind her, she coasted to a wide-open layup. Miller finished with 14 points.
The run extended the Maryland lead to 20 and it wouldn’t look back, finishing the quarter with a 15 point cushion.
That advantage was enough for the Terps to cruise throughout the fourth, one that saw numerous bench players take action to close out the game — and at the end saw the Terps cutting down the nets to celebrate their regular season title.
The contest was a convincing performance for the Terps against an outgunned opponent. And, perhaps more importantly, it was a vital tune up before tournament games began in Indianapolis.
“We’re peaking at the right time, we’re excited I think we’re really clicking together as a team on both ends of the floor,” Frese said. “[We] feel like we’re really prepared, going into the Big Ten tournament.”