When Penn State’s Peyton Whitted looks across at the opposing team Thursday night she’ll a familiar face.
And that’s strange.
Whitted, a former North Gwinnett High School (Ga,) standout, will face fellow North Gwinnett star Lexie Brown as the Lady Lions face No. 5 Maryland at 7 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“This is going to be very weird because I’ve played with her since seventh grade,” Whitted said of Brown, a fellow sophomore. “This will be our first time going up against each other, so I’m excited and I know she’s excited, too. ... We’ve always talked about it before that it would be weird playing against each other because all we’ve known is playing with each other.”
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Brown has gotten off to an outstanding start to her career. The 5-foot-9 point guard is averaging 13.1 points and 4.6 assists this season. She;s coming off a 26-point effort in a 93-88 win over No. 16 Iowa on Sunday.
Whitted is not surprised that her former teammate is thriving.
“She’s always been that leader,” Whitted said. “She is the glue of their team. She really finds her a lot of her teammates very well. She can shoot. She can do everything when it comes to being a point guard. ... It’s going to be a really big focus for us to stop her in transition. She’s really fast and she gets out in transition and can score that way, too.”
As a freshman, Brown helped Maryland go 28-7 and advance to the Final Four last season. The Terrapins fell 87-61 against Notre Dame there.
Penn State made a run to the Sweet 16 last season before falling to Stanford, another Final Four qualifier.
“I definitely kept in touch with her that whole way,” Whitted said of Brown and the NCAA Tournament. “We were texting after every game up until we lost. She was really excited when they upset Tennessee (73-62). I knew from then they were going really far because they beat Tennessee. She’s a great player. She did some great things last year and she’s doing great this year, too.”
The Terrapins, led by former Minnesota coach Brenda Frese, have been tearing up the Big Ten in their first season in the conference. Maryland (19-2 overall) is off to a 10-0 start in the league and has a two-game lead over Iowa with six to play.
Maryland’s success is no surprise to Penn State’s Sierra Moore, who saw the Terps firsthand as a freshman at Duke.
“Brenda Frese always a good group of girls,” said Moore, who transferred to Penn State after that 2013 season. “They’re always strong competitors. They’re doing well this year. It’s just exciting that I get to play against them and more than a couple of minutes.”
Frese’s squad boasts the nation’s fifth best scoring offense at 83.7 points per game. The Terrapins are piling up those points without anyome scoring more than 14.1 points per game.
Four starters — Lauren Mincy (14.1), Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (14.0), Brown and Brionna Jones (12.7) are scoring in double figures. Five other are averaging between 4.6 and 5.8 points per game.
Maryland has scored 84 or more points in its last four games.
“They do a really good job of attacking in transition,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “Their guard play is really dynamic. The challenge is (facing) a team that’s so balanced. They’ve got four players that are averaging double figures and they just keep coming at you. They’ve got kids coming off the bench that can put the ball in the basket. ... They’re really deep.”
Moore likes the though of facing a team that wants to run, because that’s what Penn State wants to do, too.
“We’ve got some fast girls on our team,” Moore said. “I think we will be fine.”
Penn State (5-17, 2-9) is in the Big Ten basement, but has shown signs of improvement. The Lady Lions were within a basket of No. 21 Rutgers with 3 1/2 minutes remaining on Sunday before the Scarlet Knights pulled away late for a 76-65 victory.
Washington said that game showed progress. After committing 38 turnovers in a 20-point loss to Rutgers early in the season, the Lady Lions had 18 Sunday. They also became one of just six teams to outrebound the Scarlet Knights.
“We did a lot better job than we did the first time, especially we had less turnovers which we really stressed,” Moore said. “We can tell we’re getting better. A loss is a loss, so you’re going to feel something about it. We really buy into what Co has to say and we know that we’re getting better. We just have to keep working on it.”
One of the players that has been improving the most has been Whitted. The 6-foot-3 reserve forward has averaged 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the floor over the last four games.
“Peyton has really continued to play well for us off the bench for us these last four or five games,” Washington said. “She’s scored in double figures, but most importantly it’s the aggressiveness and attacking we’re seeing from her. Her versatility and her length is really key.”
And while it presents a stiff challenge, Washington is pleased to face both of the conference’s newest members — Rutgers and Maryland.
“These are going to be some fun games,” Washington said. “Our fans are going to enjoy these games. Our players are going to enjoy playing in these kind of games with this kind of athleticism. It’s going to be great for our conference and great for the East Coast Big Ten fanbase.”
Notes: Penn State leads the all-time series against Maryland 14-8. ... The Lady Lions have won the last six and are 8-2 in home games. ... The two teams last met in 2003 with Penn State winning 82-65 in College Park, Md., ... The Terrapins played twice in at the Bryce Jordan Center in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, defeating Sacred Heart (95-54) and St. John’s (81-74). The Terrapins went on to win four more games and the NCAA Championship. ... Frese coached one season at Minnesota, leading the Gophers to a 22-8 mark and a second-round NCAA appearance. ... Maryland has advanced to the Elite Eight three times and to the Final Four twice under Frese.