Every season, in a bit of brand building and a show of local goodwill, Brenda Frese brings her Maryland women’s basketball team to games across the state, from Princess Anne (UMES) to Baltimore County (Towson).
Last season, the Terps played at Loyola Maryland. The result was perfunctory, a comfortable win. The day had a secret significance, though, one that revealed itself Wednesday, when the team, in a funny coincidence, again traveled to Baltimore.
As the team bused up to Loyola Maryland last December, Frese spoke for the first time with Eleanna Christinaki, a talented wing without a team. On Wednesday, the former Florida star made her debut for the No. 15 Terps in a 113-49 win against Coppin State at the Physical Education Center.
Baltimore was where Frese had introduced herself to the Greek national team member, so where else but Baltimore would Christinaki reintroduce herself to Division I basketball? In a performance that suggested a re-evaluation of Maryland’s potential this season, the junior finished with a career-high 32 points, coming off the bench with some early nerves before arriving at the postgame news conference with a wide smile.
“Today was my day, and everybody was passing me and supporting me,” said Christinaki, who finished 12-for-20 overall, including 6-for-13 from beyond the arc. “And I will do the same thing for all of them.”
For as long as anyone on the team can remember, Christinaki had been literally counting down the days until Wednesday, treating the end of each game, each practice, as if it were one second closer to the start of a new year.
Which it was, in a way. After leaving Florida midseason last year following a falling-out with her coach, Christinaki chose the Terps (11-2) over Louisville and Baylor in January. She didn’t know when she might play again — that was up to the NCAA — but she hoped it wouldn’t be a great wait.
Kaila Charles scored the game's final three points in Charlottesville.
It ended up being 377 days (though games with Greece in the FIBA EuroBasket qualifiers were a much-needed balm). As tipoff neared Wednesday, sophomore wing Blair Watson (23 points and a game-high seven 3-pointers) kept tabs on her teammate. Now that there were no more days left to count down, what would happen to Christinaki?
“Her excitement from day one is just everything that everybody’s ever wanted, and her having just an amazing game is just something that we all wanted for her,” she said.
The start played out as expected — with Christinaki on the bench, again watching with the announced 630 on hand. The only real surprises were the holiday sweaters brightening the benches. Maryland’s coaching staff wore red “M” sweaters. Coppin State coach DeWayne Burroughs opted for a dark blue number that announced “ITS CHRISTMAS TIME!” and prominently featured a smiling clock face.
When the Terps finally did miss, it was only a cosmetic blemish. Maryland stole the ball back on the ensuing possession before Coppin State (1-11) crossed half-court, missed again, then stole the ball again underneath the basket. This time, sophomore forward Stephanie Jones (Aberdeen) scored easily.
The ever-growing margin meant Christinaki didn’t have to do much in her first college game since Dec. 8, 2016. She resisted that temptation, attempting five 3-pointers in under six minutes. But she missed four, many of them short-armed. Even her first make required a fortuitous bounce, caroming off the front rim before dropping through the cylinder.
“She was able to get some of those jitters out in that first quarter,” Frese said. “But her teammates just did a phenomenal job finding her and really trying to get her comfortable into this fold.”
Frese has called Christinaki one of the team’s better players, and it was only a matter of time before she showed why she might indeed be the best. She didn’t miss the rest of the half, finishing 7-for-11 from the field for 17 points, including three 3-pointers. Both times she was dispatched to the scorer’s table to sub in during the first half, the clutch of Maryland fans behind the team’s bench cheered a little louder than usual, as if they knew what the team had missed its first 11 games.
With Coppin State senior guard Genesis Lucas (17 points) struggling and sophomore forward Oluwadamilola Oloyede having to leave the game early with a broken nose, Maryland put on one last show before the start of Big Ten Conference play. Sophomore wing Kaila Charles (19 points) went 8-for-9. Freshman guard Channise Lewis had seven assists and no turnovers. The team easily reached the century mark for the third time this season.
Christinaki was center stage for most of it, playing a team-high 30 minutes as Frese tinkered with different lineups surrounding her new weapon. When she wasn’t knocking down 3s, she was delivering no-look passes or streaking downcourt for fast-break opportunities or probing the baseline for looks.
Ahead of the game, Frese had likened Christinaki’s arrival to an early Christmas present. The coach is the mother of two boys herself. She knows that the hardest part of getting a gift is often the wait to open it.