The only problem was it was the Maryland women’s basketball team that was on the court.
“I don’t know how they got the actual men’s ball in there, but it was not until the third quarter — because, obviously, I re-watched the game — one of the officials looked at the ball and spotted whatever, took it to the next official, and then that’s when they realized it was a men’s ball,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said Tuesday, through laughter. “I mentioned today — [my players] will question the officiating any other time, but this … as a shooter, I sure as heck would’ve been like, ‘Something’s off!’ ”
For the second half, the ninth-ranked Terps switched to a regulation women’s basketball — which according to NCAA rules must weigh between 18 and 20 ounces and measure between 28½ and 29 inches in circumference — and defeated Clemson handily.
The mix-up was a first for Frese and her players, who returned home from the Daytona Beach Invitational over the weekend with a second win, against Belmont, in their pocket before turning their attention to a juicy road matchup Thursday against No. 13 North Carolina State that will air on ESPN.
Maryland isn’t expecting any surprises of that nature this time around. In fact, Frese may well feel right at home battling an opponent from the Terps’ old conference — an opponent that, in many ways, looks similar to her own squad.
Like Maryland (7-1), N.C. State (8-0) runs its offense through a 6-foot-5 sophomore center, surrounds her with shooters who can be dangerous from beyond the three-point line and plays a good mixture of youth and experience.
“In some regards, we’re kind of mirror images of each other,” Frese said.
Led by Elissa Cunane, the center and the head of the Wolfpack’s attack with 14.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, N.C. State promises to be a good measure of how much Maryland’s defense has developed since the start of the season. The Terps are running a new, more switch-heavy defensive system, and the last time they faced a team with Cunane’s size, the bout ended in a home loss to South Carolina and its young 6-5 center, Aliyah Boston.
Boston had 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks that game, which was Maryland’s second of the season and its only previous matchup with a ranked opponent.
Shakira Austin, Maryland’s own 6-5 sophomore center, had just two points and two rebounds in limited minutes that game. Austin has since come into her role as the anchor of the Terps’ defense and is often the player through whom they run their offense; the sophomore’s 13.4 points per game rank second on Maryland’s stat sheet, and her six rebounds per game lead the team.
“Honestly, I feel like the lessons we take from the South Carolina game was just to stay out of foul trouble,” Austin said Wednesday. “We’ve definitely been emphasizing not letting [N.C. State] get position, making sure that we’re depending on our teammates to have our backs for help. Because we’d rather them throw it over than to let [Cunane] get a deep seal because she’s really efficient at sealing low and going up strong. That’s been our main focus for the past two days in practice.”
Frese is counting on the fact that all of her players, not just Austin, have settled into the new defense with six games under their belt following South Carolina.
“The second game of the season, we weren’t where we are currently,” Frese said. “We’re going to face that kind of size in conference every night, so it’s going to be great to see where we are at with our defense. Because they love to punch it inside, but they also love to shoot it. It’s going to be a really strong matchup for us.”
Aside from providing a defensive measuring stick, Thursday’s game carries extra meaning for Maryland. The Terps haven’t had a win over the Wolfpack since 2013, losing their only two matchups since then, including a bitter loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2018 in Raleigh, N.C.
N.C. State brings an experienced team to the matchup this time around, with senior guard Aislinn Konig (10.4 points per game) and junior forward Kayla Jones (10.1 points per game) supporting Cunane, and has a solid win over Texas as the highlight of a strong start to the season.
But Maryland is the first ranked team on the Wolfpack’s schedule, and the Terps will be playing with a bit of an edge.
“We’re fully aware, for our seniors, that [loss to the Wolfpack] ended our season two years ago,” Frese said. “Although it’s a different team and a different season, it’s just having that pride factor of what that felt like a couple years ago and wanting to come in and play our best basketball.”