COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Brandishing a seven-player rotation and an I-can-handle-this approach in the wake of adversity, Brenda Frese has taken Maryland to its accustomed position atop the Big Ten standings.
The three-time defending conference champions appeared in deep trouble just a couple of weeks ago, when starting guard Blair Watson sustained a season-ending knee injury and the Terrapins lost at home to unheralded Michigan State the following night.
A narrow victory over a sub-.500 Indiana team followed, making it evident that Maryland’s reign in the Big Ten was in serious jeopardy.
Uh, maybe not.
Facing No. 12 Ohio State on Monday night in a first-place showdown, the 14th-ranked Terrapins (17-3, 6-1) never trailed in a 99-69 blowout.
“Yeah, we got out-coached, outplayed, out-hustled, out-everything from start from to finish,” Buckeyes coach Kevin McGuff said.
Give credit to Frese. She’s won an NCAA championship at Maryland and had seven 30-win seasons, but her coaching prowess has never before been tested under such dire circumstances.
Fielding a depleted squad with only two seniors, Frese never quit teaching after Watson went down. Using only seven players until late in the fourth quarter, Frese orchestrated a telling rout over an Ohio State team that had defeated Maryland three straight times over the previous two seasons.
“They came out like they wanted to win right from the tip,” said Ohio State star Kelsey Mitchell, who was held to 15 points. “They were focused on personnel. They were tuning in to what their coach was saying and they responded.”
Eleanna Christinaki, a transfer from Florida playing in her eighth game at Maryland, scored 21 of her 26 points in the first half. Sophomore guard Kaila Charles picked up the slack after halftime, scoring 26 of her career-high 32 points on 8-for-9 shooting.
Four of the starters played at least 30 minutes, with absolutely no hint of fatigue.
“Obviously, any time you talk about our team and how we need to grow, you talk about Eleanna becoming eligible in the middle of the year or Blair’s injury,” Frese said. “You’re going to have some holes that just take time.
“What I love about this team is that they just keep trusting and putting their head down and working. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves for what we don’t have. Like I told them at the start of the game, we’re going to focus on what we do have.”
Unlike in past seasons, the Terrapins don’t possess a potential All-American. They do, however, have a balanced attack in which six players are averaging double figures in scoring.
Christinaka, a 6-footer from Athens, Greece, nailed six 3-pointers in her second start following Watson’s departure.
“I never thought that I need to replace the scoring. Blair was a great defender, too,” Christinaka said. “So my mindset was that we need to start to play better defense. When you lose a player like her, everyone contributes to that.”
Ohio State came in averaging 87.7 points and 42 rebounds a game. Against the Terrapins, the Buckeyes shot 39 percent and were outrebounded 47-32.
In the wake of the uplifting victory, Frese acknowledged that it’s too soon for Maryland to start making room for another banner on the ceiling of the Terrapins’ home arena.
“We have to understand we’re only seven games into the conference season and we already have a valuable lesson from Michigan State, that when we’re not in that groove anything can happen,” she said. “We have a lot of games left where we want to be getting better. But I love our mindset and I love our work ethic.”