The Maryland women's basketball team traveled to Syracuse to take on the Orange looking to end their first three game ACC losing streak since the 2009-2010 season. In the short term, the squads have been headed in opposite directions as the Orange had won their last four ACC contests while the Terps were mired in that three game losing streak. In the first half, Maryland improved nearly everywhere they'd been lagging over the last several games. To wit:
They grabbed an early lead and held onto it. They asserted themselves on the boards out rebounding Syracuse by eight. They played solid defense for the half holding the Orange to 11 for 30 from the field including 2 from 9 from behind the arc while the Terps made five of ten. The only area with room to improve was their eight turnovers. However, when they took a 46-29 lead into the half, the open question became could they maintain that level of intensity for the entire forty minutes. The answer was yes as Maryland cruised to an 89-64 win improving to 5-3 in the ACC and 17-4 overall. Here's how they did it:
After missing their opening shot the Terps opened the scoring on a nice pass inside the Syracuse zone for an Alicia DeVaughn layup. After both teams missed a few shots, the Orange got on the board with two free throws. The Terps began to turn the ball over and found themselves looking at an 8-4 deficit before they forced some turnovers of their own and began controlling the boards to take a 10-8 lead headed into the first media timeout.
Maryland scored the first two baskets out of the break as Coach Frese substituted liberally getting early contributions from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Tierney Pfirman on the offensive and and Malina Howard on the boards. When the squads went to the second timeout, the Terps held a five point edge.
Maryland started to draw a few fouls in the third segment of the half and continued to dominate the boards going up plus seven early as they extended the lead to eleven at 26-15 and forced an Orange timeout. A Maryland turnover out of the timeout and a Syracuse three briefly cut into the margin into single digits but by the time the under eight minute timeout rolled around, the Terps led 28-18.
As the clock ticked under six minutes, a long three pointer by Lexie Brown put the Terps up by eleven equaling their largest lead of the game. She followed that on Maryland's next possession with another three that opened the Terps lead to 14. After a Syracuse basket, Katie Rutan joined the three ball party and the Terps lead stretched to fifteen. Another Brown three pointer after a strong offensive rebound by Pfirman gave the Terrapins a 42-24 lead. The under four minute break came with 1:59 to play and Maryland in possession or the ball with a 42-26 lead.
Despite patiently working the ball for an open look, the Terps failed to score and the Orange answered with a traditional three point play to narrow the gap to thirteen. But after a Syracuse turnover, a strong drive and layup from Shatori followed by another Terrapins steal that led to an open wing jumper by Brown gave Maryland a 46-29 halftime lead.
The Terps opened the second half with possession and got the ball inside to Brionna Jones who drew a foul and made one of two free throws. Syracuse worked the ball for an open baseline three but Brown answered immediately with a three of her own triggering a 7-0 Maryland run that included a textbook fast break that led to a Jones layup and forced a Syracuse timeout just a minute and a half in with the Terrapin lead standing at 54-32.
The timeout didn't help as the Terps continued to pour it on continuing to rebound, run the floor, and break the Syracuse press. Then potential disaster struck on a Maryland steal as Alyssa Thomas was tripped as she got the ball ahead to Brown for a layup that gave the Terps a 66-35 lead as Thomas laid on the floor writhing in pain. No foul was called on the play. (Post publication note: I just watched the replay and she clearly tripped herself on this play.) Thomas left the floor under her own power and was ready to check back into the game after a minute or so of playing time. During her absence, Syracuse went on a 6-0 run and Frese called a timeout.
The Terps turned the ball over and the Orange scored again to cut the lead to twenty-three. However, on the Terrapins' next possession, Brown made the sixth of her seven three pointers on the day on an assist from Thomas to stem the tide. The only real question remaining was whether Thomas could pull off the triple double again. Thomas had reached double digit rebounds early in the second half and when she made a layup off Katie Rutan's steal with ten and a half minutes to play for her tenth and eleventh points, the senior needed only one assist for her fifth career triple double. That assist came with 8:23 to play. Another Rutan steal started the play. She got the ball ahead to Thomas who drove into the lane and made a one touch pass to Brown and the freshman dropped in an open eight foot jumper from the baseline.
Although things got a little sloppy for Maryland toward the end, the Terps operated with the cruise control on as Frese emptied her bench late and the Terps wrapped things up by the 89-64 final.
In my blurb, I noted a total team effort so let me give some credit here. Individually, in addition to the huge contributions from Thomas and Brown, Shatori recaptured her shooting stroke making 7 of 9 field goals including 2 for 2 from deep finishing with 17 points off the bench. Brionna Jones did what Brionna Jones does. She put herself in position to score and rebound without forcing things as she dropped in ten points and pulled down three rebounds. As a group, led by Thomas' ten and Brown's seven, the Terps had 25 assists on 35 baskets. Maryland's bench contributed 28 points and 13 rebounds as the Terps finished plus ten on the glass. And everyone contributed defensively as the Terps forced 20 turnovers including 12 steals and held the Orange to 36.2% shooting. Only Syracue's 18-9 edge in free throws made the game as close as it was.
The Terps return to Comcast Center Thurday night. They will host the Pitt Panthers in a 7 pm tip off.