With just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Michigan State’s Moira Joiner accelerated into the lane. In one fluid motion, Joiner flicked a behind-the-back dribble before spinning to her right and rising up for a quick layup. But Jakia Brown-Turner stood in the way. The Maryland guard attentively tracked the ball, then shifted over to the right baseline to swat away Joiner’s shot.
The early block set the tone for a fast-paced game to follow, and the Terps took advantage – playing to their strengths by pushing the tempo, attacking on both ends with constant drives and defensive pressure. But a back-and-forth second half, combined with a streaky Spartans’ shooting run, proved too much for Maryland, as the Terps fell 74-69 in a conference loss to Michigan State.
To open, an assortment of early turnovers from both teams – 11 combined throughout the first period – resulted in lots of fast-break, transition opportunities. Brown-Turner and Bri McDaniel excelled, drawing foul after foul and being awarded with multiple trips to the charity stripe – where they shot a perfect 8/8 on combined first quarter free throw attempts.
“We put an emphasis on driving hard [to the rim],” said McDaniel. “That was really my main focus, and just trying to get everybody else involved.”
But the Spartans surged back, going on a 9-0 run of their own to take a five-point lead after just seven minutes of play.
Four straight McDaniel free throws – and a first quarter buzzer-beating triple by Brinae Alexander – put the road team back on track, effectively sparking an uncontested 12-0 Terps’ run to close out the first and begin the second period.
But after yet another Alexander three-pointer in the ninth minute of play, Maryland proceeded to stall throughout the majority of the second quarter. A scoring drought ensued, as the Terps failed to score a single field goal for more than six straight minutes – giving Michigan State time to tie the game at 22 apiece.
“[Michigan State] started studying the screens on their high ball-screen actions,” Shyanne Sellers said. “[They] tried to pick us apart that way, knowing we would help on the roll and then skip it. They made adjustments…”
Finally, with 2:42 remaining in the period, a midrange jumper from Sellers ended the drought – providing the Terps with a much-needed boost of momentum that translated into an immediate impact both offensively and defensively. Maryland proceeded to stun the Spartans to close out the first half. Timely buckets, free throws, and blocks from Brown-Turner, Riley Nelson, and Faith Masonius led to seven consecutive unanswered points for the Terps, who widened their lead to a near double-digit margin before the break.
“Proud of our first half,” emphasized head coach Brenda Frese. “I thought we executed the game plan really well…holding them to [just] 22 points.”
But a blistering 22-8 second-half run followed for the Spartans, who were suddenly back in the driver’s seat. However, expert guard play by McDaniel and Sellers kept the Terps in it, as a combined 10 third-quarter points between the two helped combat the high-powered Michigan State offense.
“We came out [of the break] flat,” Frese later stressed. “I can’t explain it. It’s an area for us that we’ve really got to be able to grow and push through that fatigue.”
The back-and-forth play continued throughout the end of the third quarter. Maryland regained the lead off of an acrobatic layup by Sellers, but the Spartans answered right back with five points from the line to close out the period – setting up a dramatic final 10 minutes.
A late fourth-quarter surge of three consecutive Michigan State triples – from Joiner, Julia Ayrault, and Theryn Hallock, respectively – served as the sixth lead change of the game, once again putting the Spartans back in front with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
In an effort to regain some momentum and stop things from spiraling out of control, Sellers proceeded to go on attack – finding ways to put points on the board through constant driving layup and free throw opportunities, resulting in nine points for the junior guard in the final two and a half minutes alone.
The incredible effort by Sellers (now with 23 points on the day) – combined with a clutch triple from Brinae Alexander – narrowed the margin to as little as three with just seconds remaining. But it wouldn’t be enough, as a pair of free throws from Joiner and DeeDee Hagemann extended the Spartans’ lead to five, effectively icing the game at the buzzer.
With the loss, Maryland falls to 10-5 on the season (2-2 record in Big Ten play), while still maintaining a dominating 18-3 all-time series record over Michigan State.
“We have to come together and be one,” stressed McDaniel. “Not a [separated group of] one, two, three, four, five; it has to be one [unit].”
The Terps now head back to College Park, with some time to regroup before heading back onto the hardwood this weekend to take on the 9-5 Purdue Boilermakers (game originally postponed last week – rescheduled for this Sunday at noon).
“There are no easy games,” Frese emphasized. “Every team is coming for you in this league. The talent [in the Big Ten] is that good…For us, we’ve got to put a complete 40 minute game together.”