The Maryland women's basketball team left the ACC a gift Wednesday night with their 67-55 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes. At 7-0, the Terps are the only undefeated team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This was, however, a game where the final score is a bit deceptive.
The game started well for Maryland with Alicia DeVaughn getting an early basket followed by a traditional three point play by Alyssa Thomas as the Terps ran out to a 5-0 lead - a lead they would never surrender. DeVaughn started well for Maryland picking up 4 points and 3 rebounds in the first four minutes of the game. Though a bit hampered by foul trouble, the senior would finish with nine points and seven rebounds. Ohio State closed to within 5-4 but Maryland responded with a 7-2 run that prompted an early Buckeyes timeout with 15:37 to play in the half. Showing the sign of a well coached team, the Buckeyes ran a well designed play out of the timeout that opened a spot for an easy jumper. The Terps showed off their depth when starting point guard Lexie Brown picked up her second foul just six minutes in and was capably replaced by Brene Moseley. In a closely officiated physical contest, Brown would be tagged with her third foul less than a minute after reentering the game with just under nine minutes remaining in the half.
Meanwhile, in a game that was far from a purist's delight to watch, the home team managed to cling to a lead that hovered between one and four points. The Terps led 20-19 at the under eight media timeout and didn't seem to be playing with great defensive intensity despite the low score. Things changed in that regard when Alyssa Thomas blocked a shot with just over seven minutes left. Even though the Buckeyes scored seven points in the last seven minutes, their shots were more difficult and more tightly defended. The Terps, however, continued to have problems with Ohio State's aggressive, trapping zone defense. "I thought their physicality at times really tested us," Coach Frese said after the game. "I do think it's an uncharacteristic night for us to go two for eleven from the three point line but they play hard in terms of how they force things. I thought they did a terrific job defensively," she added. Another place Maryland shot uncharacteristically poorly was from the free throw line. The Terps entered the game shooting almost 79% from the charity stripe and though they were effective in getting to the line they made only 11 of their 16 attempts.
A late basket by Tierney Pfirman gave the Terps a three point lead of 29-26 at the break. The bucket was Pfirman's only score of the half but the sophomore seemed to haul in every rebound in sight pulling down seven boards in just eleven minutes. "That's my mindset going into the game - that we need the boards because once we get those we can push into transition which is our style of play," she said. She finished the game with a career high ten rebounds. Even with Pfirman's first half effort, Maryland held a relatively slim 27-21 edge in rebounding. On the offensive end of the court whether it was tough defense or just poor shooting, both squads shot under thirty percent for the period.
The Terps burst out of the gate in the second half opening the period with an 11-2 run featuring three baskets by Alyssa Thomas over the first three and a half minutes that pushed the lead into double digits for the first time. The second half belonged to Thomas as the preseason ACC Player of the year added 16 points and 6 rebounds to her first half totals of 9 and 6 to finish the night with her eighth consecutive double-double.
Most of the crowd seemed to relax a bit as Maryland held onto that nice working margin as the Terps were up by ten with eight and a half minutes to play. But the Buckeyes playing as Coach Frese described it "really hard and within themselves" sank three pointer and a basket that followed a couple of Terrapin turnovers and a bunch of missed shots for both teams that cut the lead to five with just over five minutes left. Maryland's lead dwindled to 56-53 as the clocked ticked under three minutes when Katie Rutan found Lexie Brown open in the corner and Ohio State's defense was a bit slow to rotate over giving her a clean look at the basket. Despite having gone one for six from the floor to that point, the freshman calmly drained a crucial three pointer. Frese said, "Big three. Big three. Fortunately I've been able to see her take those through her high school and AAU career knowing she wants the ball in that moment." A Maryland rebound off a missed Ohio State jumper led to a fast break layup by Moseley and the Terps went six for six down the stretch from the foul line to reach the final 67-55 margin.
So, what are the lessons from tonight's game? Lesson one: Maryland's quality depth is going to wear down a lot of teams. The Terps got better looks at the basket in the second half in part due to better execution and in part due to Ohio State playing just a beat slower on defense. The same thing happened on the boards. The six rebound edge the Terrapins held at the end of the first half ballooned to eighteen by game's end.
Lesson two: Maryland may have some trouble against physical teams that are willing to play a lot of zone defense against them.
Lesson three: The freshman class continues to show potential and they all play with confidence but it will be a bit up and down. Against Ohio State the three freshmen shot a combined four for eighteen.
Lesson four: Alyssa Thomas is an All-American. (As if we really needed to learn this.)
The Terps return to the court Monday night at 7 pm to face the Siena Saints.