"It was definitely a game of runs," so noted Maryland coach Brenda Frese in her opening remarks after Thursday night's 77-62 win over the Syracuse Orange at Comcast Center. And so it was. And it started early.
After working the ball patiently against the Syracuse zone on the game's opening possession to get the ball inside to Alicia DeVaughn for a soft baseline jumper and a quick 2-0 lead, Maryland promptly missed their next nine shots. Fortunately for the Terps the Orange weren't much better - shooting 2 for 6 and turning the ball over twice so when the teams reached the first media timeout Maryland trailed only 5-2.
The Terps continued to struggle on the offensive end early in the game and Brianna Butler who dropped in seven three pointers in the Orange's last game continued her hot shooting making two three pointers in the first five and a half minutes. She wouldn't make another three on the night and that's the second story line from the game, Maryland's defense. Before the evening was out, the Terps would force 21 Orange turnovers with 14 of those coming on steals.
Now, back to the game and its runs. After Syracuse took a 12-8 lead, the Terps bounced back to tie the score and prompt a timeout by the Orange. It didn't really slow Maryland's momentum as the Terps polished off a 19-4 spurt to take an eleven point lead into the under eight media timeout. The game settled into a bit of a rhythm but with just over five minutes to play in the half and Maryland up 31-19 Katie Rutan's three pointer ignited a 7-0 Terrapin run that doubled the score and at that point it looked like the Terps were on the verge of squeezing the life out of the Orange. But Syracuse had some juice left and closed the half on a 9-4 run to trail by fourteen at the break. Unsurprisingly Alyssa Thomas led Maryland with ten points trailed closely by Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with eight. The second half, however, held a surprise for the 3,777 in attendance.
The Terps opened the half with back to back baskets but the Orange again responded - this time with a 7-0 run that peeled back the Terrapin lead from 46-28 to 46-35. At this point we began to see the second half surprise and the story of the night unfold - the emergence of Brionna Jones. The freshman from Aberdeen ended the Syracuse run with a layup and when Rachel Coffey sank a three point jumper to narrow the gap to ten, Jones had the answer with a traditional three point play. Jones simply dominated the paint for Maryland in the second half going 5 for 7 from the field and 4 for 5 from the free throw line to score 14 of her career high 18 points. She also grabbed 10 rebounds - six coming in the second half - for the first double-double of her Terrapin career.
Jones' free throw put Maryland up 51-38 and her three point play set off a 15-3 Terrapin surge that opend the lead to twenty-two with ten and a half minutes to play. Game over, right? The Terps were on the verge of mashing the Orange to pulp, right? Well, not quite. Maryland was still up 68-48 with just over eight minutes to play when Syracuse found new life and ran off nine in a row to close to within eleven. Briana Day's free throw with 4:47 left brought the visitors within ten. Then back to back jumpers by Brene Moseley (more about her in a bit) ignited an 8-0 Maryland blitz that put the Terps up by 18 at 77-59 with under two minutes to play in the game. Also in that stretch, Alyssa Thomas pulled down her tenth rebound - she'd finish with eleven to go along with a team leading 19 points - to rack up her fourteenth double-double of the season. A late Syracuse free throw and basket accounted for the final margin.
So, to wrap up the lessons from Thursday's games, they are these:
Maryland is capable of playing suffocating defense but occasionally loses focus and needs to learn to maintain their intensity for a full forty minutes. The Terps put 14 steals in the box score. They can't expect to do that on a nightly basis.
This Maryland team has scary depth. On a night when the Terps got four points combined from Alicia DeVaughn and Malina Howard, Brionna Jones came off the bench and dropped eighteen. And though she did have a Moses Malone moment or two about which she said, "It wasn't on purpose but I just read the ball and if I saw it wasn't going in I just went after my own rebound and put it back in," she is a smart player who uses her body well to seal position in the low post. Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said of her, "Jones is doing a good job being on the opposite block. She's on the weak side to get the rebound; she had eight offensive rebounds. When you have eight offensive rebounds and make six points off free throws, that's a ton. She did a very good job getting deep post position."
But the depth isn't limited to Jones. Remember, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough comes off the bench and is the Terrapins' second leading scorer. She finished with ten points against Syracuse despite shooting poorly from the field. Thursday night Brene Moseley also earned special kudos. On a week when Lexie Brown was named to the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list, the sophomore from Burtonsville responded with ten points on 4 of 6 shooting and she doled out 7 assists with only two turnovers. In all, Maryland's bench accounted for 44 of the Terps' 77 points.
Maryland probably shares the ball as well as any team in the country. Sure this is an old lesson but it's one that bears repeating. With 16 assists the Terps fell a bit short of their average of nearly 21 assists per game but those assists came on only 30 made field goals and on a night when they didn't shoot particularly well. And with only 9 turnovers the assist to turnover ratio is one to be admired.
It's a quick turn around for the Terps as Georgia Tech close out the home stand when the Yellow Jackets come to College Park for a 2 pm Sunday tip off. Maryland will look to win their sixteenth game of the season and move to 4-0 in ACC play.