Where's that bag of superlatives when you need it? I need one to describe Maryland's highly entertaining 87-77 win over the Florida State Seminoles Thursday night. I need another to describe the performance of Katie Rutan who made eight of her ten three point attempts on the night. How about a third to describe a team stat line unlike any I can ever recall seeing - the Terrapins' astonishing 29 assists on 35 baskets.
And then there are the ones needed to capture the results of the "star watch". Florida State's star senior center / forward Natasha Howard certainly held up her end of the bargain scoring 35 points while shooting 13-17 and pulling down 11 rebounds to register her eleventh double-double of the season. And how did Maryland's senior star Alyssa Thomas fare? Well, 22 points on 9-17 shooting. Twelve rebounds, including eight in the second half. Oh, and twelve assists. Yes, she did it again - her fourth triple double of the season and sixth of her career both of which are one short of equaling the NCAA record.
For much of my life, my friends and family have called me T. Well, tonight, I'm going to become Mr. T and say, "I pity the fool who hasn't come out to Comcast to watch Alyssa Thomas play basketball." And now you have only one more chance. As for Thursday's game, it went like this:
For one of the few times this season, the Terps lost the opening tip but solid defense by Brionna Jones cut off Natasha Howard's baseline drive and created a turnover. The Terps failed to turn that into points and Florida State's Morgan Jones hit the first of her six three point jumpers to give the visitors a 3-0 lead. Maryland responded by scoring seven straight with two Jones layups sandwiching a Rutan three pointer and the Terps led 9-8 when the media called a timeout.
Whether by design or happenstance, Thomas opened the game in the mindset of a distributor picking up four assists on Maryland's first seven baskets while scoring only one herself. In the second segment, a putback by Jones and back to back three pointers by first by Katie Rutan then by Lexie Brown put the Terps up 17-10 prompting a Florida State timeout. Jones hit a three point jumper out of the timeout but the Terps responded with another 9-0 run with four of those points coming from Thomas as she switched into scorer mode. The 26-13 Terrapin lead brought another timeout from Florida State coach Sue Semrau.
The Seminoles again responded with the fourth three point jumper from Morgan Jones who, along with Howard combined to score all of FSU's first twenty points. A 5-0 Seminole run cut the lead to ten at 33-23 and it was Coach Frese's turn to stop the clock.
With all this focus on AT, I've neglected to mention that, as the Terps built their lead to 44-29 going into the last media break of the half, Katie Rutan was in full bombs away mode dropping in five of six from behind the arc to this point. Meanwhile, Tierney Pfirman had come off the bench with a lot of energy pulling down three rebounds, collecting two dimes and scoring four in her early action. "Tierney is really coming along. She gives us so much firepower on the offensive end with how she moves the basketball. She has a really high basketball IQ and was a tremendous punch for us," Frese said.
It looked as though the half would come to a fitting end with Rutan dropping in her sixth three on seven tries with thirty seconds to play closing the Terps' scoring but a Maryland steal let Thomas end the half with two free throws. As the Terps went to halftime with a 53-35 lead, I put myself on triple double watch as Thomas had 12 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds.
With no jump balls called in the first half Maryland opened with possession in the second half but turned the ball over and the second period began just as the first had with a Morgan Jones three pointer for FSU. Just as they had in the first half, the Terps answered with seven straight points to take a twenty-two point lead before four straight Seminoles points prompted a media timeout to slow their momentum with the Terps leading 60-42.
The strategy failed as the Seminoles continued to find holes in Maryland's defense and the Terps suffered from a bout of forced shots and "turnoveritis" committing five in the first six minutes of second half action. When Emiah Bingley's three pointer cut the lead to fourteen at 61-47 Frese had to use a timeout. Coming out of the break, FSU changed their defense and with the shot clock running down, Brown drove from the top of the key and made a perfect feed to Pfirman for a wide open layup. The teams traded three pointers with Jones dropping in her sixth for FSU and Rutan answering with her seventh for the Terps. The three pointer fired up the pilot light and Maryland regained their offensive rhythm. When the television crew decided they needed another stoppage in play with 10:42 left, Maryland had opened the lead back to 72-53.
Thomas picked up her tenth assist with 10:34 to play on a layup by Jones and Rutan's eighth three pointer - tying Kristi Toliver's single game record - once again gave Maryland a 20 point lead. On the other end of the floor, Natasha Howard was single handedly keeping FSU within shouting distance making layups, mid-range jumpers and free throws and at one point throwing in an acrobatic off balance shot as she was tripped for her thirty-first point of the night and bringing the Seminoles back within fourteen.
A Maryland turnover and a poor offensive possession that left Brionna Jones shooting a jumper from the free throw line to beat the shot clock gave Florida State two chances to cut further into the Maryland lead. However, the Seminoles got only a single free throw from Howard and the Terps held an 85-70 lead as the media called its final timeout.
After watching her team bounce back from Monday's loss with a strong early performance, Frese said, "I thought Florida State did a really nice job of hanging around and being aggressive." Given the team's second half showing in which they were out scored and out rebounded, I pressed this point. "I thought fatigue played a factor coming back from Duke and I thought you saw us get tired. I thought we definitely wore down. With three games left, you've got to be able to recover quickly," she replied.
Florida State cut the lead to ten with just over two minutes to play and there was a bit of an edge for most of the 3,395 in Comcast Center when Howard drew Jones' fifth foul and made one of two to bring the visitors within single digits at 85-76 with 1:37 to play. Though Thomas grabbed her tenth rebound on the missed free throw securing her fourth triple double of the season, the Terps promptly turned the ball over and when Cheetah Delgado made one of two free throws Maryland's lead stood at eight with 1:07 to play. Thomas' jumper from the right wing provided the final margin. After a Florida State foul with 28 seconds left, Frese brought Thomas to the bench though not many in the crowd seemed aware of the senior's feat.
The Terps now have two straight on the road beginning Sunday at Georgia Tech in what looks to be the last threatening game on the schedule. They will then travel to Boston College before closing out their final ACC season at home against Virginia Tech on Sunday, March 2. And if you're reading this you should bring yourselves, your families, and your friends to Comcast Center if for no other reason than to watch Alyssa Thomas play a basketball game.