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COLLEGE PARK – With less than 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the game well in hand, Shakira Austin had one more chance to add more points on the scoreboard for the University of Maryland women’s basketball team.
Guarded by her former Riverdale Baptist School teammate Lauren Ebo, Austin received a pass from the top of the key and began to spin away from the pressure. Once she had the freedom to drive down the line, Austin ran past her high school friend and converted the final layup for Maryland while getting fouled the process.
After being scoreless in her previous outing, matching up with her former Lady Crusader teammate brought confidence to the freshman forward prior to the contest, Head Coach Brenda Frese said.
The Fredericksburg, Va. native finished this game with a double-double performance of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“I loved her response,” Frese said. “…She needs that (confidence) to every game, that mentality; In that type of framework, nobody can stop her, and she was very aggressive today.”
Following a dismal second quarter, Maryland’s post players, Kaila Charles, Brianna Fraser and Austin, provided the offensive spark needed to reclaim the lead against Penn State.
Along with freshman Taylor Mikesell’s career-high 23 points, No. 9 Maryland earned a critical 79-67 victory in front of 7,684 in the Xfinity Center on Jan. 20.
Following the road loss to the Spartans, Maryland (16-2, 5-2) needed a win to stay in the upper half of the Big Ten Conference standings. In the early moments of the contest, they looked to have the game going their way with an early 14-3 run and containing the Nittany Lions to single-digit points (8) to end the first quarter.
However, Penn State (9-9, 2-5) came out the aggressor in the second quarter, thrusting themselves into the lead with a 14-6 run of their own. Guard Teniya Page, who was averaging 20.2 points per game, scored nine of her team-high 20 points during the period while Maryland shot under 40 percent.
“We played with good pace in the second quarter,” Penn State Head Coach Coquese Washington said. “We did a good job moving the ball and finding the open person with high energy levels on offense; when we do that, we are typically in good shape.”
Fraser and Charles would convert four quick points in the final minute, including the latter scoring a last-second layup, before halftime to tie the game and to mitigate the damage for Maryland.
Despite allowing nine consecutive points to go uncontested at the start of the third quarter, the Terrapins would begin slowly chopping away Penn State’s lead.
Charles, Fraser and Austin began aggressively hitting the post, with 24 of the team’s 40 points in the paint coming after the halftime break. Even though she did not start, Fraser’s presence was felt right away as she battled for loose balls and pushed through heavy traffic to score 13 points. Maryland would fly into a 6-0 run late in the third to reclaim their lead.
“She energizes our team,” Charles, who scored 19 points, said about her senior captain. “When she is doing good, we all are doing good. We are following her footsteps and it is good to see her dominating because we know she can do that.”
“When their post (players) are playing that well, it gets to be pick-your-poison,” Washington said. “And we have young posts inside while Kaila Charles and Brianna Fraser are very seasoned post players and it makes it easy for Shakira Austin to play alongside players like Kaila and Fraser who have been here and are very experienced.”
Meanwhile, Mikesell improved her play throughout the game and finished having a career day, tying her career-high in 3-pointers made (five). One of the 3-pointers the guard made, a darting shot from the left side of arc early in the fourth quarter, gave the Terps their largest lead (8) since the first quarter as they claimed its third straight home victory.
“In the Michigan State game, we were in-and-out of focus,” Mikesell said. “Coach challenged us a lot to stay locked in and keeping the energy high because if it stays high, you are able to hide your mistakes while you build off of that and we did that well today.”
With the win, Maryland now sits in second in the Big Ten standings, with Rutgers (15-3, 7-0) still atop the conference. An upcoming road trip to Ohio State (Jan. 24) and No. 25 Indiana on Jan. 27 will be important for the Terps to continue building cohesion and limiting mistakes as they look to play a complete 40-minute game.
“I think a big piece is the consistency factor,” Frese said. “We won three out of four quarters today, but we haven’t put in many games that, I can think of, were 40-minute games. I’m not saying perfection but just not having a mentality where you lockout and you have some turnovers back to back or some breakdowns defensively.
“That’s the big picture of where we are trying to get to, and we are not quite there yet.”