In 2014, the Maryland women’s basketball team lost to North Carolina in its first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but bounced back to advance to the NCAA Final Four.
Brenda Frese harkened back to that memory after the No. 4 seed Terps absorbed their earliest exit from the Big Ten tournament courtesy of a 62-51 loss to No. 5 seed Indiana in a quarterfinal Friday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“In 2014, our ACC team lost in the [quarterfinal] round and went to the Final Four,” the longtime head coach said. “So it doesn’t make me nervous or anxious for what lies ahead if we respond to it the way we’re capable of.”
Frese and the Maryland players were forced to take a glass-half-full approach as they will not have a direct say in determining the conference’s tournament champion.
Since joining the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season, they had captured the title five times in the past seven years and been to the championship game the other two seasons.
But unlike those squads, the No. 11 ranked Terps (21-8) lacked any consistent punch on offense. They shot 31.4% (22-for-70) from the field, failed to connect on a single 3-pointer in 12 attempts, missed five consecutive shots during separate spans three different times and were mired in scoreless stretches of 3:37 in the second quarter, 3:03 in the third and 5:05 in the fourth.
“We missed a lot of bunnies,” said graduate student forward Chloe Bibby, who finished with four points on 2-for-11 shooting and five rebounds. “Regardless of whatever it is, you have to make open layups, you have to make open shots if you want to win. We just didn’t do that today.”
Trailing 18-13 after the first quarter, Maryland missed its first six shots. That opened the door for No. 14 ranked Indiana (21-7) to take a nine-point advantage and continue to distance itself from the Terps en route to taking a 34-25 lead into halftime.
Maryland was outscored by the Hoosiers in the first, second and fourth quarters, and junior point guard Ashley Owusu acknowledged that the team lacked energy to keep pace with Indiana.
“We have to come out with fresh legs,” said Owusu, who came off the bench to provide a game-high 21 points and four rebounds in her second game since returning from a sprained right ankle that sidelined her for four straight games. “We have to be ready to play all four quarters, and I don’t think we did that, especially in the first half.”
In addition to Bibby, two other starters in junior shooting guard Diamond Miller and graduate student point guard Katie Benzan registered subpar performances. Miller, who entered the game averaging 12.6 points, finished with four points on 2-for-11 shooting, and Benzan, who averaged 11.0 points, was shut out after missing all five of her attempts despite racking up five assists and four rebounds.
The game was the Terps’ first since Feb. 25 when they outlasted Indiana, 67-64, at Xfinity Center in College Park. Bibby dismissed the notion that earning a double-bye in the conference tournament played a role in the offense’s futility.
“We’re all in the gym, we’re all getting our shots,” she said. “I don’t know. Today, it just wasn’t falling. You have those games, and you have to find another way to win. It doesn’t matter. You’ve still got to find a way to win at the end of the day and survive or go home.”
Sophomore power forward Angel Reese, a Big Ten first-team selection and the team’s leader in points and rebounds, amassed 14 points, 13 rebounds, four steals and three assists. But she also missed six of 11 shots, turned the ball over four times, and was saddled with foul trouble in the second half before fouling out with 44 seconds remaining.
Frese said Reese, a Baltimore resident and St. Frances graduate, grew frustrated by the physical play of Hoosiers junior power forward Mackenzie Holmes and her teammates.
“She got caught up in the physicality and lack of calls that she perceived needed to be there,” Frese said. “From her end, that doesn’t help us. … Indiana did a great job of being physical with her and aggressive, and she had to finish through plays. That impacted us a lot in the first half.”
Holmes racked up 10 of her team-high 17 points and four of her five rebounds in the first half, and senior shooting guard Grace Berger compiled 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Hoosiers, who will meet top-seeded Ohio State (23-5) in a semifinal Saturday at 3:30 p.m. after the Buckeyes defeated No. 8 seed Michigan State, 74-58, in an earlier semifinal.
“We challenged our kids before the game and at halftime,” Indiana coach Teri Moren told the Big Ten Network after the game. “We wanted to blitz Reese as much as we could, we wanted to be disruptive. We knew we were going to have to take calculated risks. We didn’t want to leave Benzan, and our kids executed that to a T. So really happy with just the way we defended and the toughness that we showed today.”
Maryland must now wait until March 13 to learn its seeding in the NCAA tournament. With the team projected as a No. 3 seed prior to the Big Ten postseason, Frese said it is imperative on the coaches and players to reflect on their drawbacks and make improvements before the NCAA tournament begins.
“I know the character and the competitiveness in our locker room,” she said. “So I think everyone is highly disappointed in the outcome, and I expect it will be a motivation for the NCAA tournament.”