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No. 3 Maryland women’s basketball edges No. 6 Baylor, 79-76, in first of four top-10 matchups

COLLEGE PARK — Even a Maryland women’s basketball team at partial strength can take down a fellow top-ranked team.

That should worry the rest of the country.

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The No. 3 Terps rallied after a slow start to beat No. 6 Baylor, 79-76, in a game that saw Diamond Miller exit with an injury in the third quarter, Angel Reese get into foul trouble in the fourth and starter Katie Benzan and reserve Faith Masonius sit out with illnesses.

Baylor star NaLyssa Smith scored a career-high 30 points and Jordan Lewis added 29, but the Terps’ defense withstood the one shot that could’ve sent the game to overtime: a 3-point attempt from Sarah Andrews that hit the rim in the final seconds.

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The ending didn’t need to be so stressful. Maryland led 76-65 with 2:45 left after a jumper by junior guard Ashley Owusu. Lewis responded with six straight points to cut the deficit to 76-71, and Smith added a layup with 1:30 to go to make it 76-73. Then Reese took over, scoring inside and drawing a foul for a three-point play to put the Terps ahead 79-73.

Lewis hit another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 79-76 with 38 seconds left, and after a missed shot by Owusu, Andrews’ potential game-tying 3-pointer went off the rim and into the hands of Reese.

There couldn’t be a better outcome to catapult Maryland (6-0) into another three games against top-10 opponents, beginning with a matchup against No. 5 NC State on Thanksgiving in the Bahamas.

“We’ve made it known what our goals are,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought we absolutely took a step towards that today in our journey.”

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With a depleted bench, four Terps played 39 minutes or more. That could have drained some teams. Instead, the competitive energy that they exuded at halftime made Frese smile.

“A lot of teams would have made excuses, to be so short-handed,” she said. “This team dug in and found a way.”

Owusu reached 1,000 career points by scoring 24 to lead Maryland. She is the second Terp to eclipse that mark this season, as Chloe Bibby went over 1,000 points on Nov. 12 against Villanova.

“It means a lot, especially to be able to do it in a game like this with so many fans,” Owusu said.

Three more Terps netted double figures; Reese followed her elder teammate closely with 17 points, her fifth double-digit scoring output in five games, and a team-high nine rebounds. Bibby recorded 16 points while Mimi Collins had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Even missing vital pieces against a fully stocked Baylor (3-1) team, Maryland held its lead for nearly three quarters. After shooting 31.6% from the field in the first quarter, including a 1-for-6 start from 3-point range, the Terps finished the game shooting 40%.

But for all the blowouts Maryland notched to open the season, it didn’t appear things would be that easy from jump. The Terps fired blanks at the net, going 6-for-19 from the field in the first quarter. It wasn’t surprising when Maryland exited the frame trailing 21-17 after the Bears hit two 3-pointers before the buzzer.

Maryland's Diamond Miller, right, goes up to shoot against Baylor's Nalyssa Smith in the second quarter on Sunday afternoon in College Park.
Maryland's Diamond Miller, right, goes up to shoot against Baylor's Nalyssa Smith in the second quarter on Sunday afternoon in College Park. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Benzan’s absence rang hollow with every 3-point attempt that knocked fruitlessly off the rim. Without the team’s leading 3-point shooter two years running, Maryland made just one of its first six attempts from beyond the arc.

In the second quarter, Bibby knocked down two 3-pointers — including the one that began Maryland’s 7-0 run — as did freshman Shyanne Sellers and Collins. The Terps went 4-for-8 in the quarter from deep.

But Benzan’s absence stung both ways. Baylor coach Nicki Collen said a big part of the game plan was, in fact, to post her up. Maryland’s response to Benzan’s absence threw the Bears off, as did switching up marks on every screen.

“It’s hard for any team to play us when we can stretch the floor,” Bibby said. “You never know what we’re going to do.”

And when Maryland rediscovered its physical nature, the rest followed.

Owusu led the charge from both ends of the court. The other Terps drew from her template, even Sellers, who scooped up Owusu’s steal and hit a 3-pointer for the Terps’ largest lead of the game until the point at 40-33.

“Dang, she made so many contested shots when we were there,” Collen said of Owusu.

A Maryland lead that improved to 42-35 by halftime wouldn’t be enough if the Terps didn’t play at the top of their game. So, it’s a good thing that they did.

Maryland sustained that advantage throughout a third quarter that featured all the tell-tale signs of a Terps team in rhythm: turnovers, tricky defensive maneuvers, drawn fouls on layups. It even forced a shot clock violation, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find missing from a Maryland win.

Then, in a flash, it was as if all the air in the room vanished.

Miller cruised for a routine layup, missed and collapsed. Rather than standing, she dropped again and limped to the sideline. Baylor embarked on a 12-7 run upon the departure of the All-Big Ten guard, who has been dealing with a sore knee throughout the season.

Though the Terps would maintain their upper hand and take a 64-55 advantage into the fourth quarter, the lead felt less solid with Miller gone.

Then Reese, who was perfect from the field in the third quarter, also left the floor with four fouls. Maryland hadn’t experienced this kind of stress in the fourth quarter since March.

But every Terp that stepped onto the court moved seamlessly with one another, including Sellers. A freshman making her first career start against an imposing team like Baylor could have been rattled. Instead, Sellers operated like she’d been built specifically for the Maryland system, finishing with seven points and five rebounds.

Sellers, too, would be the one to serve up Owusu’s basket that became her 1,000th point.

“She passed the test,” Frese said.

Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship

NO. 3 MARYLAND@NO. 5 NC STATE

Thursday, 11 a.m.

Stream: FloHoops.com

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