COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland women’s basketball team earned a reputation by the end of last season as a squad that could kick dust on almost any team by halftime and leave it with a crushing defeat.
Though Towson often proved tricky to overpower for a while, the No. 14 Terps eclipsed 100 points for the second straight time this young season, dispatching the Tigers, 112-78, on Thursday in their first game at the Xfinity Center since the pandemic struck in March. It was Maryland’s largest margin of victory (34 points) through four games.
Maryland extended its streak of winning its first home game to 22 years and has won its home opener in 47 of its 50 years as a program.
Though new faces energized the Maryland offense, the returning figures that helped bring home the 2020 Big Ten tournament title picked up where they left off last spring. Sophomore Diamond Miller spearheaded the scoring with a career-high 28 points, followed by reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ashley Owusu with a career-high 25.
Coach Brenda Frese could tell Owusu and Miller were capable of taking the team’s reins last year, but now, out of the shadow of WNBA rookie Kaila Charles, they are undergoing a metamorphosis as leaders.
“It’s another thing to say you want it. Like I explained to both of them when I pulled them out tonight, you have to consistently bring it,” Frese said. “For us to be successful this season, they have to be consistent for us. I’m excited. These two are winners. They love to compete. That’s why they came here to Maryland. They wanted that ownership and responsibility.”
What should have been a sweet night for Maryland soured early, as freshman guard Angel Reese, the No. 2 overall recruit from St. Frances, left the court in the first quarter on crutches.
Reese earned co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week laurels this past weekend after averaging 17 points and 8.7 rebounds in her debut at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida. The Baltimore native scored two points on Thursday before her injury, returning to the sideline with a boot on her right foot just before halftime. Frese said the injury is still unknown, and Reese will continue to be evaluated.
Without its freshman spark, Maryland remained formidable. Another newcomer, senior guard Katie Benzan, served up what was promised when arriving as a graduate transfer from Harvard in April, making six 3-pointers to fuel her 21-point total and helping lead Maryland to 21 made 3-pointers, a program and Big Ten record that was just seven shy of the NCAA mark. Miller made five 3′s while Owusu and senior Chloe Bibby each hit three.
The Terps shattered 3-point records previously set by Iowa at Northwestern in 2015 and Minnesota at Illinois in 2016 (both 19).
Questions around Maryland’s presence beyond the arc that percolated when its leading 3-point shooter, Taylor Mikesell, departed the program in the offseason were nowhere to be found Thursday. The Terps went 21-for-31 from downtown, a rate of 67.7%.
“Crazy percentage, right? This is really who they’ve presented within our preseason and our practices is that they all can shoot it extremely well,” Frese said. “When we’re being unselfish, we’re really hard to guard with the way we’re able spread it. It does open up the offense because there’s nobody that you can play off of with all the weapons we have on the court.”
Frese credited that “unselfish” play, recording 28 assists, in keeping the offense energized throughout the night.
“When we share the ball, we’re a really good team. We already knew we had shooters,” Miller said. “We just found our shooters and we took easy shots.”
At the game’s start, Towson descended on Maryland like a quickly moving downpour: definitely there, but for all of about a few minutes. The Tigers swapped leads with their hosts until the Terps defense laid down the press and swallowed Towson’s shooters up.
“Just being active and talking. I think our defense is a lot better when we talk and communicate,” Owusu said.
Ignited by a 3-pointer from Benzan, Maryland embarked on a 10-0 run. By the time Towson resurfaced, a second-chance basket by McDonogh alum Aleah Nelson (18 points), it found itself looking up from an 18-point ditch. The Tigers trailed 30-14 by the first-quarter buzzer.
Without Reese’s presence on the court, Frese and her staff will have to redesign lineups and ask other players to step up, including Faith Masonius (11 points) and Mimi Collins (seven points).
“There might be times when there are four guards,” Frese said. “Asking Diamond to stay out of foul trouble and play 40 minutes and be very versatile for us. We’ll evaluate that as we continue to see where things evolve for us.”
The Tigers did find a way to chill the Terps offense down towards the latter five minutes of the second quarter while enjoying the sound of the referee’s whistle. But of the 11 chances at the free-throw line, Towson added just four points and lagged behind its hosts 55-30 at the half. The Tigers managed to hit 50% at the free-throw line by the end of game, 11-for-22.
The Tigers shot just 39% (30-for-76) from the field; when Towson did score, it wasn’t enough to snuff the flames pouring from Terps’ hands beyond the arc as Miller, Benzan, Bibby and Owusu combined to drain five 3-pointers, something that very well could have set Maryland on track to bury its visitors by halftime.
But Towson would not be shaken off like flies.
Maryland made clear it knew Towson senior Kionna Jeter, the redshirt senior guard that poured in 27 points against East Carolina earlier this season, in the first half. As the 5-foot-8 guard worked to force paths in the halfcourt, defenders like Miller and Owusu stuffed her, limiting her output.
In the third quarter, Jeter “got way too hot and way too comfortable” for Frese’s liking. Jeter made her way into the basket nine times in the third quarter, iced by a trio of 3′s to end up leading the Tigers with 28 points.
Frese would still like to see her defense fully realize its lockdown potential.
“We’re still working through the lapses on the defensive end, bringing that together as a team,” Frese said. “Obviously, Towson has some really talented guard play and really made us pay on the defensive end.”
Miller felt when her team’s playing to have fun, they don’t really notice how well they’re doing. In that vein, the fourth quarter could’ve been a party. Miller excelled beyond the arc, recording three 3′s, as Maryland sped towards its blowout victory.
“I think she just needed to get back to Xfinity,” Frese said, “because this is how she’s been shooting the ball in practices and the time she spent in the offseason.”