Most sporting events have an arc on which one can build a narrative of the competition. However, when the competition devolves into something akin to the Maryland women's basketball team's 95-43 win over the Clemson Tigers at Comcast Center Sunday afternoon, it is certainly a story with no tension.
Coach Brenda Frese sent the same starting five of Lexie Brown, Alicia DeVaughn, Brionna Jones, Katie Rutan and Alyssa Thomas onto the floor as she did Thursday night against the Pitt Panthers with much the same result - 90 plus points for the Terrapins and fewer than fifty for the opposition. In one interesting twist, the game's opening sequence set the tone for much of Alyssa Thomas' day.
On Maryland's first possession, Thomas took the ball at the high post and fed it into Jones. When the defense collapsed, Jones promptly kicked the ball back out to Thomas and the senior drained the foul line jumper. Thomas would finish the day with 22 points making 10 of 16 field goals with at least seven coming on mid-range jumpers. Thomas played only twenty-nine minutes in another relatively short day at the office and added 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Of Thomas' performance, Clemson coach Audra Smith said, "I've watched her play for a very long time, but she wasn't quite in her beast-mode tonight, I'd say she was in mini-beast mode, which I appreciate. She is just a phenomenal player and I love watching her. She's a player that you are not going to be able to shut down, you might be able to contain her, but not shut down. She just has all the tools."
Periodically throughout the game, the Tigers went through extended scoring droughts. The first of these came when, after their initial basket with 18:17 to play in the first half they needed over four minutes to score their second. The Terrapins, after jumping out to a 4-0 lead, scored ten straight to take a 14-2 lead at the first media timeout. Coming out of the second media timeout, Maryland still led by twelve but a three point jumper by Rutan and a layup by Jones quickly pushed the Terps lead to seventeen at 23-6. Clemson fought back with three straight buckets and when the clock stopped with 7:53 to play, the Tigers were as close as they'd been in nearly eight minutes and as close as they would be for the rest of the game.
The required timeout came at a bad time for Clemson derailing any momentum they might have built up with those three straight scores. Maryland proceeded to make five straight field goals while the Tigers failed to score for two and a half minutes and the Terps extended the lead to 33-12. Still, Clemson showed a little life outscoring the Terps 11-6 over the final 5:27 to close to within sixteen at 39-23 when the halftime buzzer sounded.
The halftime statistics showed Maryland's balance and strength. Coach Frese played eleven players and eight of them scored. The Terps had thirteen assists on sixteen baskets and they also came from eight different players. And, looking more like the early season Terrapin squad, they held a 21-12 rebounding edge.
Maryland's second half opened with back to back layups by Jones and when Katie Rutan dropped in her third three pointer of the game with 16:56 to play, the Terps' total of 46 points would have been enough to secure the win. Alternatively, had they not scored until that moment, the 49 points they'd score from that point would also have been enough to win this game.
So how did Maryland explode for 49 points in the game's final 17 minutes? Perhaps the Terps depth wore the Tigers down. Clemson finished the game with twenty-nine turnovers and eighteen of those came in the second half. Many of those turnovers led to Terrapins fast breaks. Twenty of the Terps thirty-three points off turnovers came in the second period. Maryland also continued their dominance on the glass as they built up to a margin of plus sixteen by game's end.
In fact, with seven minutes to play in the game, Clemson was shooting a respectable 45 percent. However, they had committed 23 turnovers and trailed off the boards by twelve. The Terps, meanwhile, were torching the Tigers' defense shooting nearly 64 percent from the field in the second half. Put these elements together and that's how you find yourself shooting reasonably well but trailing 74-39 with seven minutes to play in a basketball game even after Maryland's national Player of the Year candidate went to the bench for good with over eight minutes to play.
And speaking of the bench, the Terps got great production from there as the non-starters contributed 42 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led that group with eleven points. After having the night off on Thursday to rest her injured calf, Malina Howard added nine points and Tierney Pfirman and Brene Moseley each scored eight. Howard led the bench rebounders with five while Pfirman and Shatori pulled down three apiece. Moseley's seven assists led the Terps and matched Clemson's team total. Equally impressive she didn't commit a turnover. In all, Maryland finished with 29 assists on 39 baskets.
With two minutes to play, Frese called a substitution timeout and, much to the delight of the 6,471 in attendance, gave some playing time to Sequoia Austin and Essence Townsend (or as I like to call them, "Tree" and "E"). In those last two minutes, both the crowd and the Maryland bench had two chances to erupt. The first came with 1:29 to play when Townsend took a pass from Shatori and banked home a layup and the second with thirty-five seconds to play when Austin hit a seventeen foot jumper on an assist from Moseley.
Following Maryland's loss to Notre Dame, I wrote that the Terps needed to improve in five areas to recapture their winning touch. These were: (1) eliminate slow starts; (2) play 40 minutes of defense; (3) get back to controlling the glass; (4) value possessions, and; (5) regain their three point shooting touch. Over the last three games - wins by 25, 48, and 52 points respectively, I'd grade the team with an A in three, a B+ in one and a B in the other. The A's come for eliminating slow starts, for controlling the glass where the Terps are plus 43, and for their 54% three point shooting. The B+ comes in controlling turnovers. Syracuse was a rough one with twenty but the last two games have produced a total of twenty-one. The B comes on the defensive end. True, Syracuse shot only 36 percent and Pitt a mere 31 percent. Clemson was marginally better finishing at nearly forty-one percent.
As a true Debbie Downer, I worry because I saw the Terps repeatedly beaten off the dribble and watched the Tigers score 32 points in the paint. And frankly they missed a lot of close shots that better teams will make. So I can't be satisfied until I see how they perform in these next two road games beginning Thursday at Miami.