Facing No. 4 Maryland with a full roster would have been challenging enough. Things got much tougher for the Gophers, though, when starting center Jessie Edwards came down with the flu and could not play Sunday in their Big Ten home opener.
Edwards’ absence made things easier for the Terrapins, who got a game-high 27 points from center Brionna Jones in an 83-72 victory at Williams Arena. But the undermanned Gophers made Maryland work for it. Though they never led, the Gophers (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) rallied from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter and a nine-point hole in the fourth, twice cutting the lead to a single point.
The Terrapins (13-1, 1-0) answered both of those surges with their own — thanks in large part to Jones, who also had a game-high 13 rebounds along with three blocks and four steals. That prevented the Gophers from ending the day the way they wanted, after beginning it with a jersey-retirement ceremony for all-time leading scorer Rachel Banham.
“I was really pleased with our fight,’’ Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “But we’re not into moral victories. I felt we did have opportunities to win the game; we were shorthanded a little bit, but I still thought we were right there. That’s the part that’s encouraging for us moving forward.’’
Carlie Wagner led the Gophers with 20 points, while Kenisha Bell added 19 points and eight assists. Senior Joanna Hedstrom played all 40 minutes and sparked both second-half comebacks. She scored all 12 of her points after halftime.
But the Gophers missed two key pieces: freshman guard Gadiva Hubbard, who has mononucleosis and sat out her third consecutive game, and Edwards, who left a big hole to fill in the post. Stollings said Hubbard, the team’s third-leading scorer with 13.8 points per game, will be out “a little while.’’ Edwards is day-to-day, and on Sunday, that forced Bryanna Fernstrom — a transfer who just became eligible last week — to play much more than Stollings wanted.
Without Edwards, the Gophers were outscored 52-30 in the paint and struggled to contain Jones. They also adjusted their offense on the fly, which contributed to their 12 first-half turnovers. The Terrapins’ pressure and superior speed were factors, too as the Gophers lost the ball on their first four possessions and eight times in the first quarter while Maryland built a 24-14 lead.
Bell said the Gophers did not lose their wits, which kept them in position to mount a comeback. “It’s all about staying poised and being locked in,’’ she said. “We’re going to have times when things don’t go our way. You’ve just got to stay with it and keep pushing.’’
The Terrapins led 38-32 at the half and stretched the margin to 10 before the Gophers began to rally. An 8-0 run cut the deficit to 42-40, and they pulled within 48-47 before Maryland answered with a 12-4 surge. The Gophers trailed by nine early in the fourth, then again cut it to one, trailing 68-67 with 6 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.
Jones made eight of 12 shots and scored 17 points in the second half, and she and fellow senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — who finished with 22 points — were instrumental in stopping both rallies.
“Our two seniors were phenomenal,’’ said Terps coach Brenda Frese, whose team’s only loss came last week to No. 1 UConn. “You could just feel their poise and confidence in terms of making big plays.’’
Despite the loss, the Gophers gained some self-esteem, too.
“I was really proud of our team,’’ Hedstrom said. “We didn’t go away. We fought the whole game. They’re at the top of the Big Ten, and we played with them. That gives us confidence.’’