MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) -- Brenda Frese sounded grateful enough to send a thank-you note to her friend, Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell.
His Blue Raiders gave her top-ranked Maryland Terrapins a lesson Friday night on what it's like to be the team everyone wants to beat. Kristi Toliver hit a 3-pointer with 3:11 left to break a tie at 72, and the defending national champions pulled out an 80-76 victory in the opener for both teams.
Not exactly a game to ease into the season.
"They made us better tonight, and that was tremendous," Frese said.
"One of the better college games I've ever been a part of. … They made us work for everything. It was a tough battle like you saw but a tremendous environment. We loved the fans, the energy. … It's just going to make us both better."
The victory extended Maryland's winning streak to seven straight, a run that started in the NCAA Tournament last spring en route to the school's first national title. Opening on the road, the Terrapins drew 10,010 -- a record crowd that was more than twice the previous best for a Blue Raiders women's game.
"Middle Tennessee has prepared us for what's going to come ahead in every game," said Crystal Langhorne, the Terrapins' preseason All-American. "We know we're going to get everybody's best game."
The teams swapped the lead five times with one tie, all in the second half. Chelsia Lymon scored with 1:59 left to pull Middle Tennessee to 75-74, but the Blue Raiders missed their next three shots.
Laura Harper hit a free throw, and Langhorne put back a miss by Shay Doron with 27 seconds to make it 78-74. Middle Tennessee turned over the ball once again, and Maryland got the victory.
Insell said his Blue Raiders got a little tired and had to come out of the press that had worked so well. Maryland had 23 turnovers the Blue Raiders turned into 30 points.
"But you know, they're the national champions. They've been picked No. 1 already this season by everybody. I'm proud of our young ladies. They made the plays when they had to make plays, and that's what they're supposed to do."
Marissa Coleman had 19 points for Maryland. Langhorne and Doron each finished with 16, while Harper had 11.
Coleman said they knew they would be a target for opponents this season.
"I don't think we knew what that meant until tonight. We knew they were a great team, but I don't think we realized how good a team they were," she said. "They were coming after us based on what we accomplished last year."
Amber Holt, a junior college transfer who originally signed with Georgia, led all scorers with 28 points for Middle Tennessee. She signed in August, and Frese's staff had no tape to study on the 6-foot guard. Chrissy Givens had 14 points, and Lymon added 13.
"They could definitely play in our league," Frese said of Givens and Holt. "They're that talented. They're tremendous."
These teams met Friday for the first time. Frese had a couple reasons for opening on the road: She's friends with Insell; and junior guard Ashleigh Newman is from Murfreesboro and won three state championships with Insell at Shelbyville Central High School.
Newman had about 200 family, friends and fans wearing special Maryland shirts for the occasion, and she knew Insell would have Middle Tennessee ready.
"He's really prepared them. They're going to do some great things this year," she said.
The Terrapins must wait until Sunday's home opener against George Mason to unfurl their national championship banner.
But Maryland started as if it hadn't taken a break since beating Duke in overtime for the national title in April. With its starting five back, the Terps scored the first six points and led by as much as 15 when Langhorne scored with 2:52 left and put Maryland up 38-23.
But the Blue Raiders forced the Terrapins into 14 first-half turnovers, and Maryland didn't score again after Langhorne's bucket. Middle Tennessee finished the half with a 10-0 run with five coming from Holt, who went 5-of-6 at the line, and it trailed 38-33 at halftime.
"I think we're just really excited for that day and to be able to celebrate with our fans at home," Langhorne said.