COLLEGE PARK — For the first time in more than a year Monday, the Maryland women’s basketball team suffered the feeling of losing a Big Ten game.
It had a choice: stumble into a hole, or simply begin again.
The Terps exerted their will against a conference opponent once more with a resounding 92-52 victory over Michigan State on Thursday, dispatching the Spartans in an even more dominant fashion than in the previous meeting this season.
“Teams may have underestimated us, or thought we fell off. Today was a statement win,” sophomore Ashley Owusu said, “that we’re still one of the best teams in the conference and we’re just here to stay.”
After scoring 33 points on Monday, Owusu, the nation’s leading shooter, turned in another impressive evening with 20 points, though you might not have noticed it. For so much of the game, Owusu moved like a ghost, modestly depositing her baskets while letting her teammates shine around her. In one rare show of emotion, Owusu let her dominance be known, shouting as her basket landed.
The other side of her coin, sophomore guard Diamond Miller, recorded 20 points and 10 rebounds. Overall, four Terps scored in double figures, as both 6-foot-1 guards Chloe Bibby and Faith Masonius each added 13 points.
Miller made it a mission to improve herself for Thursday’s game.
“It was no secret I didn’t play the best that I could play at Ohio State. But you have to move on,” Miller said. “We had a fresh start today. I think we showed that we’re capable of being one of the top teams in the country.”
Michigan State’s man-to-man defense might’ve been smothering Maryland (12-2, 8-1) for the first few minutes, but there wasn’t too much the Spartans could do on the other side of the court. By the time Katie Benzan made her first 3-pointer, Michigan State had only managed five points in 2 ½ minutes.
And when the levee broke, it shattered into pieces.
Benzan — the only Terp in program history to average 50% field-goal shooting, 50% 3-point shooting and 90% free throw-shooting — and Bibby provided the energy on the defensive end to help force five Michigan State turnovers in three minutes to facilitate a 17-0 run for the gold-clad hosts. In fact, the Spartans (9-3, 4-3) eked in just one basket over half the quarter, powerless to carve through the Terps defense as more and more space widened between them. At its peak, Maryland outscored its guests 21-2 and shot for 55.8% in the quarter after its quiet start.
Maryland wanted to switch from its zone press to man-to-man to try it out, and it worked wonders.
“I thought it really jump-started us,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Then being able to mix up some things defensively was critical to our success.”
The Terps held the ball with buttered hands in its first Big Ten loss on Monday against Ohio State. The lessons from those mistakes clearly landed in practice, because on Thursday, Maryland had just three turnovers for most of the half before that number increased to seven by halftime. The Terps ended up with 13 turnovers while the Spartans surrendered the ball 24 times.
With that lockdown offense came some perks. Maryland launched five more 3′s before half’s end, popping in from all over the floor — Miller, Benzan, Masonius, Taisiya Kozlova — and posted another eight points as Michigan State continued to turn over the ball. The ability to spread the ball is crucial for a Terps roster limited by injury.
“This is what we need to be able to have. We were able to develop our depth today, which is huge. We need to be able to have that,” Frese said.
The Terps also demonstrated they’d learned from more than Monday’s defeat. Maryland shut the gates on Owings Mills native Nia Clouden, who spearheaded the rally against the Terps back in East Lansing earlier this month, until later in the second quarter, when the former St. Frances star dropped 10 of her 15 points. She was also the only visiting player to score in double digits by the half — and one of just two Spartans to reach that mark all game.
But Clouden’s efforts wouldn’t be enough to chip a dent into Maryland’s advantage, especially as the Terps neutralized her in the second half.
“That was pride for us. A huge priority for us on the scouting report. We were disappointed with how we played her the first time, the amount of points we gave her,” Frese said. “She’s a great player, very talented. We wanted her to have to earn everything she got today.”
The Spartans’ short-lived fire of the first few minutes was no more than a distant memory; Michigan State endured several scoreless pockets, managing only nine field goals in two quarters, and seven more in the latter two frames. With its shooting hovering around 50%, the Terps found themselves standing on one side of a canyon with the Spartans on the other side, leading 50-30 at halftime.
With Michigan State limping in pursuit, Maryland found the time to get a little creative. Shooters posted up around the corners, savoring the clock like good food with nowhere to be. Shots still landed; Miller drilled back-to-back from beyond the arc and the Terps padded another 27 points to their hoard, 77-43, and left the Spartans reeling helplessly in their dust.
“Today revealed the character of each and every player in our locker room, and what a terrific response,” Frese said.