By Aidan Currie
Historically, women’s basketball matchups between Maryland and Illinois have not been very close. Entering Saturday’s contest the Terps held a 14-0 record all-time against the Illini, with the closest of those wins being a nine point victory in March of 2019.
With just over 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s contest however, Illinois guard Genesis Bryant made a layup to even the score at 65 points a piece, putting the Terps’ perfect record against the Illini in jeopardy.
With their backs against the wall though, Jakia Brown Turner stepped up for Maryland. The graduate guard accumulated 12 points and four rebounds, as part of a fourth quarter performance that was bookmarked around the 4-minute mark, when Brown-Turner drained a three off of a Bri McDaniel assist to give the Terps a nine point lead down the stretch.
“Don’t think about [when I] air-ball[ed] that shot in the third quarter,” laughed Brown-Turner when asked about her mindset heading into teh fourth. “For real [though], … my coaches and teammates have confidence in me to keep shooting when I’m open, so just making the right play is all I want[ed] to do.”
Maryland would hold firm to their advantage and eventually close out the game, defeating Illinois 90-82 in a shootout at the Xfinity Center.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a stat line [where] you look at the two teams and [see] just how well both teams shot it,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. “I don’t know how much defense was really being played, but [there] was just a lot of great offensive power by both teams.”
The Illini managed to build a small lead in the opening minutes to the tune of 3 offensive rebounds on the first three possessions. The second chance opportunities allowed Illinois’ Camille Hobby to get open layups from under the basket.
For Maryland, the answer was simple: Bri McDaniel. The sophomore was on fire out of the gates, with 12 points on 5-6 shooting in the opening quarter.
“I think we’ve just seen the game slow down for Bri,” emphasized Maryland’s Shyanne Sellers. “[Bri is] ready when her number is called, [she’s] always aggressive, and just sets the tone a lot for us.”
With time winding down on the opening period McDaniel drove into the paint, stepped through two defenders, and put up a floater that dropped right before the buzzer sounded. Even though the basket went McDaniel seemed to land awkwardly after the shot.
The College Park crowd fell to a hush fearing it could be another serious injury to a Terps player, but McDaniel was able to walk to the locker room under her own power before eventually returning–much to the relief of those in attendance–with just over 7 minutes left in the second quarter.
“I have to be better with learning how to fall … or just not falling at all,” laughed McDaniel, when talking about how she can keep her aggressive play style while also staying on the floor.
From a defensive standpoint, the Terps managed to force the Illini out of their typical offensive rhythm. So far this season, Illinois have been one of the best teams in the Big 10 at limiting turnovers, and coming into Saturday’s game they averaged just 11 per game. In the first half alone though, the Illini committed 8 turnovers and later finished with 14 total.
Even with the turnovers, the Illinois offense helped the Illini keep the game close in the first half, as they shot 50% from the field and went 4-4 from the line to go into halftime down just 2 points (Maryland led 38-36 at the break).
The third quarter has often been a period of struggles for Maryland this season, but a 9-2 run allowed the Terps to create some breathing room with a 47-38 lead (their largest of the game to that point).
“I loved our third quarter,” said Frese. “That’s been an area of improving [for us].”
Maryland’s run was led by junior Shyanne Sellers. After being held scoreless in the first half for the second straight game, Sellers got going for Maryland in the third quarter, creating shots for both herself and her teammates in a quarter that saw her post 10 points and three assists.
“Unfortunately the rim just didn’t like me in the first half,” joked Sellers. “In the third quarter I just came out trying to get … a little closer [to the rim]. I felt like there were a couple of [shots] that I could’ve made in the first half that I didn’t, and they started to fall in the second half.”
Despite the Terps’ lead, the Illini didn’t back down. A few crucial buckets from Genesis Bryant allowed Illinois to slowly creep back into the game throughout the third quarter. Kendall Bostic would then hit a corner three to cut Maryland’s lead to 60-57, giving the Illini momentum heading into the fourth quarter.
With ample pressure on the Terps heading into the final ten minutes, Jakia Brown-Turner and Allie Kubek combined for 19 of Maryland’s 30 fourth quarter points to will the Terps to a hard fought victory.
“That’s [the type of performance] that you expect from a 5th year,” said Frese, who had high praise for Brown-Turner’s performance. “I love seeing where she’s at for us because it helps us separate [from other teams].”
In addition to her seven fourth quarter points–and 17 points total–Kubek made one of the more unsung plays of the game. With just under 40 seconds left, and the ball in Shyanne Sellers’ hands, Kubek set a massive screen a few feet beyond the arc, which allowed Sellers to lose her defender and take it right to the basket, giving Maryland an 8 point lead and virtually icing the game.
“We’ve been really focused on [Ali] staying confident, and that’s what great players have to do,” said Frese. “We need her on the floor [and we need] the presence that she’s able to give us, so it speaks volumes of Ali and her play, to stay the course.”
Despite Saturday’s win, Maryland still has plenty of ground to make up in the Big 10 standings, as their 4-3 conference record currently has them sitting in the middle of the pack.
Coming up for the Terps is a vital two-game road trip against a pair of teams that find themselves in a similar spot as Maryland (Big 10 standings wise): Michigan (12-6, 3-3) and Penn State (12-5, 3-3). The first stop is in Ann Arbor, where the Terps will square off against the Wolverines at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.