When Maryland and Pittsburgh went to their respective benches with 11:58 to play in the second half of the Terrapins' 94-46 win Thursday night, the only question in my mind was whether to start a press row pool to bet on the time remaining in the game when Alyssa Thomas would register her second consecutive triple double and fourth of the season. When the teams returned to the court, Thomas stayed on the bench and Brenda Frese had turned into Dean Smith. They used to say of Smith that he was the only person who could keep Michael Jordan from scoring twenty points in a game. Well, on this night, Frese was probably the only person who could have prevented Thomas from ringing up that triple double. Of course, with a 47 point lead at that juncture and another game on Sunday, the coach certainly made the right decision.
Facing a Pitt team that starts four or five guards - depending on which coach you want to believe - Frese opted to start a big lineup and pound the ball inside and Brionna Jones received her second consecutive start next to Alicia DeVaughn. The Terps first possession after winning the opening tip did little to presage the rout to come as the Panthers intercepted DeVaughn's high post past intended for Jones. No worries. Pitt turned the ball right back to the Maryland and Thomas got the Terrapins on the board with a foul line jumper. The senior picked up the first of her seven assists after corralling her first rebound and hitting Jones for an easy layup.
Pitt had an answer, though, making a three point jumper and a driving layup to take a 5-4 lead with 17:20 to play in the half. Apparently, trailing to the Panthers didn't sit well with the Terps who promptly went on a 17-0 run holding the visitors scoreless for over seven minutes. By the time Chelsea Welch made a three point jumper with just over ten minutes remaining in the half, Pitt was looking at a 13 point Maryland lead. Little did they suspect that over the ensuing twenty-seven minutes or so the Terps were about to become Secretariat at the six furlong maker in the 1973 Belmont Stakes while the Panthers were about to become Sham.
Pitt actually went on a mini-run that chopped the Terrapins lead to ten at 23-13 and prompted a timeout call from Coach Frese. The Terps responded to their coach's thirty second exhortation with a 13-2 run over the next four and a half minutes. When the teams reached the final media timeout Maryland held a 36-15 lead. Coach thought these last few minutes might be a good time to experiment with a bit of a zone trap. The press was effective forcing several Panthers turnovers but the Terps obliged the visitors by missing some shots and Maryland's halftime lead was a mere twenty-four points at 45-21. Maryland still managed to shoot 53.3 percent for the half, make 11 of 12 free throws, have 11 assists on 16 baskets with only 5 turnovers, and have a plus five rebounding advantage while holding Pitt to 33 percent shooting. And the gap in the score and the stats would only grow wider.
In an interesting twist, the second half opened with a Maryland turnover followed by Brionna Jones blocking a Pittsburgh shot. Not quite the turnover for turnover sequence that opened the game but close. In this half, the freshman ran the floor and Lexie Brown rewarded her with a crisp pass for an easy layup. While the Terps held the Panthers scoreless over the first five minutes of the second half, Katie Rutan, Thomas, and Jones would each make a three point jumper, Rutan would make another jumper and Jones another layup, and DeVaughn would sink two free throws. I'm not going to test your ability to add all this up. Maryland opened the half on a 16-0 run to build a 61-21 lead with fifteen minutes to play. When Pitt finally scored their first basket of the half cutting the lead to 38, Maryland gave every indication that this was not a much better idea than taking the 5-4 lead had been.
When they reached that under twelve minute timeout that I mentioned in the first paragraph, the Terps were in the middle of a 23-3 blitz. The lead stood at 71-24 at that point. Alyssa Thomas had registered a team high 19 points, 7 assists and had 7 rebounds and her coach decided she'd finished her work for the night. The Terps didn't miss a beat without their leader on the floor as they built the lead to fifty and as high as fifty-eight by the time Pitt called a timeout with 7:39 to play. Twelve and a half minutes into the half, Pitt had made two baskets and one free throw as the Terps held them to 2 for 21 from the floor.
With a bit over ten minutes left, shouts for Sequoia Austin could be heard from various corners of Comcast Center. Whether Frese heard them or not, she appeared to respond sending the popular senior guard into the game with about ten minutes remaining. And Austin would deliver one of the highlight moments of the night when she pulled down a rebound with 8:07 to play and the crowd began to erupt as the 5'4" dynamo sped off down the court in her best Alyssa Thomas impression going end to end and driving to the basket for the hoop and the harm. Yes, Virginia, she completed the three point play.
At 6:04, entered another fan favorite - Essence Townsend. Unfortunately, the redshirt senior failed to score missing two baby hooks in the lane. She did pull down two rebounds, though. While the Terps finished the game with the rather odd lineup of Austin, Townsend, Laurin Mincy, Brene, Moseley and Chloe Pavlech on the floor, that group still managed to actually extend the lead to fifty-nine at 91-32. The Panthers outscored the Terps 14-3 over the last three minutes to close the gap to that final 94-46 margin. So you see, the game really wasn't as close as the final score.
In a side note or two, Maryland didn't provide any information about Malina Howard who was on the bench but didn't dress for the game. And Alyssa Thomas who entered the game tied with Tianna Hawkins for third place among Maryland's career rebounding leaders and tied with Kristi Toliver for the same position on the all time scoring list now holds both those spots on her own behind only Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman. The Terps will host Clemson Sunday at 2 pm before setting off on a two game road trip to Miami and Duke.