The Maryland women’s basketball team muscled its way to a season-opening win Friday night in Florida thanks in large part to 20-point performances from wings Angel Reese and Diamond Miller.
Just over 24 hours later, the No. 12 Terrapins learned a tough lesson. Though their roster is peppered with prolific scoring talent, Maryland won’t be able to rely on offense alone to blast through high-level competition. The team’s defense let it down Saturday as No. 24 Missouri State held on through a tight fourth quarter for an 81-72 win at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Fort Myers.
Coach Brenda Frese’s solace after an undisciplined loss was the experience gap between the squads. The Bears (2-0) are loaded with seniors and juniors, players who were part of the team that went to the Sweet 16 in 2019. Maryland (1-1) has a single player who has been in College Park for more than two seasons.
From Friday: Maryland women are off and running with a 94-72 win over Davidson
“We knew this was going to be a really tough matchup — really, really experienced team with Missouri State, no different than when they beat Minnesota last year,” Frese said in a video news conference after the game. “… Our energy, our effort, I thought we did a tremendous job with that. Our execution, with so many new players, is an area where we’re continuing to grow and jell together.”
The brand of high-energy, switch-heavy defense the Terps play requires composure, communication and, more than anything, practice working in the system for it to be successful — things Frese is confident will come with time.
But on Saturday, the Terps’ defense faltered in the second half, and with it they lost their calm. Maryland held a slim lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to a couple of three-pointers, but Missouri State was more self-assured and remained in control. The Terps connected on 8 of 16 attempts from the field in the quarter while the Bears made 8 of 12, but the difference came at the foul line: Missouri State went 10 for 14, and Maryland shot 2 for 3.
“It’s … defensive lapses where we’re trying to block everything right now,” Frese said. “We need to get some discipline where we’re making people have to score over our length and our size, just be a little bit more disciplined on the defensive end.”
The Terps’ troubles started well before the final minutes.
Maryland picked up where it left off after a strong second half Friday night against Davidson and held Missouri State to 14 first-quarter points with tight perimeter defense that created turnovers and plenty of opportunities in transition. The Terps shot 8 for 12 in the first quarter and carried that confidence into the second for a 43-32 halftime lead.
The Bears took it all in stride. At the start of the third quarter, Missouri State sat 6-foot-4 center Emily Gartner and went small, picking up pace on offense and driving the lane with much more ease. The Bears had 14 points in the paint in the third quarter alone compared with the 16 they had in the first half, and they built an 18-2 run in which Maryland committed eight turnovers. The Terps ended the quarter with just nine points and a 55-52 deficit.
Sarah Fuller made college football history Saturday. She also delivered a fine halftime speech.
The Terps never regained their composure even as they made a few clutch shots in the fourth quarter.
“They don’t have the Sweet 16 game experience that a Missouri State has; you see those juniors and seniors that are calming your roster down,” Frese said. “It’s still a very, very young team for us that we’re having to rely on to be consistent.”
Senior transfer guard Katie Benzan led the Terps with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Reese, the much-heralded freshman, had 15 points and nine rebounds — falling one shy of a double-double for the second game in a row. Sophomore guard Ashley Owusu added 14 points. Junior guard Channise Lewis had 11.
But no one could outshoot subpar defense. Missouri State senior guard Brice Calip led three Bears scorers in double figures with 26 points.
“We have a lot of new pieces that we’re trying to put together with really high-level basketball,” Frese said. “For us, it’s just going to take more games to get under our belt and really trust in the practices that we’ve put together on the defensive end as well as the offensive end.”
More college sports from The Post:
Maryland football, shorthanded but back in action after outbreak, is routed by No. 12 Indiana
Howard star freshman Makur Maker out for foreseeable future with a groin injury
Strong defense and hot shooting guide the Maryland men to a rout of Navy