The Maryland women's basketball team earned each of its six December victories by more than 20 points, dominating opponents as it extended its winning streak to 10 games.
But on the final day of the month, the Terps struggled to deliver the same level of offensive firepower against Penn State, toughing out a 69-65 victory. The Nittany Lions held the Terps well under their 89.9 points per game average.
Guards Blair Watson and Ieshia Small notched 15 and 14 points, respectively, to help the Terps hold off the Nittany Lions. Coach Brenda Frese commended the pair, particularly Small after she "took over" with 10 second-half points.
"[It was] a gutsy win and by no means was it pretty," Frese said on the Big Ten Network. "Not one of our better games but we found a way to hang in there when you're having a tough night on a lot of different levels. I'm really proud of the girls and the composure late game for us."
The No. 15 Terps (13-2, 2-0 Big Ten) opened the game on fire, with Watson and guard Kristen Confroy each knocking down 3-pointers as part of an 8-1 run, forcing the Nittany Lions (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) to call a timeout less than two minutes into the contest.
However, Penn State responded with a 12-5 run to level the score, a sign of the back-and-forth affair ahead at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Though the Terps led for much of the first half, they struggled physically against the Nittany Lions. Forward Stephanie Jones, the team's primary post player, collected two early fouls. She watched from the bench for the entire second quarter as the Nittany Lions outscored Maryland, 20-10, in the paint in the first half.
The foul trouble, coupled late run led by guard Jaida Travascio Green's 10 second-quarter points, gave the Nittany Lions a one-point cushion at halftime.
Despite the unfamiliar feeling of trailing, the Terps remained poised, Frese said. Small said they stressed staying together during timeouts and leaned on one another to keep their cool.
"I know a lot of shots weren't hitting and it was tough for us to score but defensively we did a great job locking in, knowing our scout and doing a great job just playing as a team," Small said on the Big Ten Network. "I thought we stayed together the whole time."
Guard Channise Lewis restored Maryland's advantage with a layup 16 seconds after the break, but the Nittany Lions then embarked on a 6-0 run to advance their lead to five and force coach Brenda Frese to call one of those key timeouts.
Following the timeout, Small scored seven straight points as part of a 10-0 Maryland run. It served as a springboard, allowing the Terps back into a game that nearly got away from them.
The contest continued to fluctuate in each side's favor, with the teams trading baskets down the stretch. Neither squad separated itself until Jones scored four straight points with less than a minute remaining to give Maryland the win.
Small said the Terps were able to grind out a victory thanks to team chemistry and encouragement in the face of adversity.
"I missed a wide-open layup which could have sealed the game," Small said on the Big Ten Network. "[My teammates] came to me and said, 'It's ok. You're going to shoot again, we're going to run the same play.'
"I wanted to cry because it was just a moment where I was like, man, I love these girls."