The Maryland women's basketball team's biggest test of the season is still more than two weeks away, but in College Park, final exams begin Wednesday. For an undefeated and fourth-ranked Terps team, the lesson of Monday's game at Loyola Maryland should be familiar to any student who thinks they've got it all figured out: You don't. Not even close.
Maryland won, of course, 79-60, its 11th victory in as many games this season. But if the Terps handled the multiple-choice portion of the night's assessment, they were left wanting on the essay section before an announced 1,009 inside Reitz Arena. While Loyola coach Joe Logan entered the postgame news conference with a smile on his face after his team's second-worst loss this season, happy to point to the white board with squiggles on it that inspired a winning second half for the Greyhounds (4-6), Maryland coach Brenda Frese was more stern.
With a Dec. 29 showdown against No. 1 Connecticut following a game at Duquesne next week, the Terps seemed as incomplete as they've been all season.
"I thought it was a tale of two halves from the first to the second half," she said. "First half, I thought we were really inspired. We came out, shot the ball well. ... I thought we really kind of came in ready to put that knockout punch in."
Freshman forward Kaila Charles traveled on the Terps' first possession. That was the exception to an early rule. Maryland scored at least two points on each of its next 10 trips down the court. When the Terps finally missed a shot, their 10th of the game, sophomore forward Kiah Gillespie tipped in her own misfire for a 24-9 lead. They were just over six minutes into the game.
There was only so much the Greyhounds could do. One moment, they were lining up for free throws. The next, Maryland had rebounded the miss, started a fast break, drawn a shooting foul and was knocking two freebies.
The Terps rebounded eight of their first 10 misses on offense and 13 of Loyola's first 17 misses on defense. Five of senior center Brionna Jones' (Aberdeen) six first-half rebounds came on the offensive glass.
In one sequence, off an inbounds pass, she spun and sealed her defender behind her — almost underneath the basket — collected the ball, pump-faked and missed. She got her own rebound, then missed again. Again, she got the rebound. The third time was the charm; Jones finished with a game-high 25 points.
"Maryland punched us in the mouth a little bit," Logan said.
At halftime, the score was 46-21. Maybe Loyola's offense was late to arrive. Or perhaps Maryland's defense was just early to leave. For much of the first half, the Terps had switched fluidly and communicated ably on the Greyhounds' motion offense. Rare was the possession that did not end with the shot clock in single digits.
Loyola struggled to drive and kick, and the times it did often ended rudely. In the second quarter, Greyhounds junior guard and leading scorer Bri Betz-White (17 points), all 5 feet 3 of her, drove baseline against 6-0 Terps freshman guard Blair Watson. She turned the corner, nothing in her way to the goal but her defender's shadow. It was a pretty long shadow: As Betz-White rose for a layup, Watson swung at the ball in mid-flight and slammed it out of bounds.
But in the third quarter, Loyola's offense could have passed for Maryland's, except for the jerseys. Loyola hit 10 of its 19 shots from the field, one more make, and on six fewer attempts, than in its first 20 minutes. When the Greyhounds got as close as 15 points, 56-41, Frese took her second timeout in six minutes.
Loyola senior forward Lauren Daugherty tied her career high with 16 points, a big second half helping the Greyhounds take the final 20 minutes, 39-33. When the game ended, the Terps had three starters on the floor, 19 turnovers and their second-fewest points all season.
They weren't happy, not with actual exams just days away.
"I thought we did a good job in the first half coming out ready to play, but it's not a 20-minute game," said senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who had 17 points. "It's a 40-minute game."