The Maryland Terrapins started their Conference Schedule Thursday night at the Xfinity Center when they hosted the Illinois Fighting Illini. The home team has had great success in conference play since joining the league in 2014, winning it outright in the first two years before splitting it with Ohio State last season. Maryland has a much different group this year in terms of personnel, still it’s imperative that they continue their standard set over the past couple of seasons. They got off to a good start with a 100-65 win over Illinois. Maryland’s trio of sophomores had a good outing, combining to score 62 of the team’s 100 points on the night.
After a sloppy start, Maryland got going. Their defense fueled the run, Blair Watson had 5 steals in that span. Maryland’s players were very active with their hands, getting multiple deflections which really slowed down the Illini attack. In that quarter, Maryland would outscore Illinois 31 to 20. Both Stephanie Jones and Kristen Confroy got hot, scoring 9 points a piece. Kristen hit three of her four shots in the period, going three of three from beyond the arc. Terps would lead 57-31 at the break.
The three point line is what kept Illinois relatively alive, they knocked down three of the nine attempted. Still that wouldn’t be enough as they struggled from shots inside of the arc, the Maryland defense was just too much for the visitors to find consistent success offensively. Kaila Charles was amazing in the first half, although it felt like the 17 points she scored happened very quietly. The Terrapins really owned the glass, at the half they led 29 to 15 (54-34 for the game). Most importantly, Maryland kept their turnovers down, committing just five in the first half while forcing 11 turnovers.
The Fighting Illini performed better in the second half, cutting their turnovers down to just five. After scoring 31 points in the first half, they scored 34 points in the second half. Brandi Beasley led the way, scoring 9 of her 16 points in the second half. Alex Wittinger didn’t shoot it well, but she definitely held her own down low on her way to 12 points and 10 rebounds. She also had four blocks on the evening.
The Terps didn’t score at the same pace they did in the first half in the second, but they did more than enough. Watson started slow, but got going in the second half, scoring 9 points courtesy of three triples. She finished with 22 points on the evening, but she did much more. Finishing with 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals. Maryland got a good contribution from their bench, scoring 27 points on the night. Brianna Fraser and Ieshia Small had 12 points a piece, Fraser added 9 rebounds.
It was a good start to Conference play for Maryland, they looked a little rusty coming off a break, but found their way early on. Eleanna Christianaki had a big game in her debut against Coppin State, scoring 32 points. She struggled to find her shot against Illinois, but it’s clear she knows how to play the game.
Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey talked about the positives she saw in her team in the loss and why it’s so tough to play Maryland. This is her first time coaching on the Division I level, she’s made quite the name for her self on the Division III level. Fahey was dominant, going 737-133. In those 31 years, she coached five of her teams to championships and is already a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Fighting Illini haven’t beat Maryland since the Terps joined the conference and haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2003. It’s just year one for Fahey, so that program is definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward, it may take some time, but winners win.
With three three-pointers made Thursday, Kristen Confroy moved to No. 3 on Maryland’s career list with 174 in her career. She needs 13 more three-pointers to move into second in the record books (Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, 186).
Up next for the Terrapins, they hit the road to face Penn State on December 31st.