Thank goodness for Alyssa Thomas. Not only did she provide a storyline to an otherwise tediously one sided game but I have to believe that because Sunday was her senior day it contributed to the third largest crowd of the year for the Terps. Thomas and her teammates sent the 7,164 fans home with smiles on their faces (well, most of them, anyway) polishing off their 12-4 conference season with an 87-48 demolition of the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Maryland started their senior day ceremonies about ten minutes prior to game time first recognizing the graduating team managers then introducing the seniors on the roster. Coach Frese also presented a small bouquet of flowers to each of Virginia Tech's seniors. As a poor or forgetful reporter, I neglected to ask whether she was inspired by Boston College coach Erik Johnson's gesture when he congratulated Maryland's seniors Thursday night or if it was something she had long planned.
The applause for Thomas faded and the ceremonies ended. Emma Clay sang the National Anthem. Russ, the p.a. announcer introduced first Virginia Tech's starting lineup, then Maryland's: At guard, a 5'5" senior from Greenbelt, MD, Sequoia Austin (who made a crowd pleasing terspichorean entrance); at center a 6'7" senior from Patterson, NJ, Essence Townsend; at guard a 5'9" senior from Ambler, PA, Katie Rutan; at forward a 6'4" senior from West Palm Beach, FL, Alicia Devaughn; and at forward a 6'2" senior from Harrisburg, PA, Alyssa Thomas. The crowd responded with another ovation.
The game didn't start too auspiciously for the group of seniors as Maryland turned the ball over on its first two possessions. The teams needed nearly two minutes before DeVaughn scored the first bucket. After the Hokies tied the score, the crowd had another chance to erupt. With the shot clock winding down, Thomas drew the defense with a drive and kicked the ball out to Austin on the left wing. It was a case of local girl makes good as Austin's three pointer touched nothing but nylon. With 16:49 to play in the half Virginia Tech made their second basket. They wouldn't make a third until 7:34 remained.
Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff put it this way, "Maryland deserves a lot of credit. Part of what enabled us to beat Carolina was we got off to a good start and I'm sure if you talk to the Carolina coaches they wouldn't think that their guys approached the game the right way which wasn't the case with Maryland today. They were locked in and they knew what they were doing and stayed with what the coaches asked them to do."
Coach Frese echoed those comments, "Really proud of our team. Obviously how we came out, I thought the seniors set the tone from the jump. I thought that we played a little more zone than we anticipated because we saw that they were struggling against it. Just a tremendouls team win for us."
At the first media timeout, the Terps led nine to four. That's when Austin and Townsend went to the bench. To go along with her three points, Austin had a team high two rebounds and an assist. Townsend hadn't scored but did have a rebound and a blocked shot in her five and a half minutes of play.
The Terps extended their lead during the nine minutes and fifteen seconds they held the Hokies scoreless but the damage wasn't as severe as it might have been. Maryland victimized themselves a bit with spotty shooting from the field and the free throw line. Still, tthe Terps had managed to build a sixteen point lead and the three pointer Virgina Tech made only cut the Terps lead to 20-7. The Gobblers then found themselves pecking at the basket in another holding pattern as they needed 3:50 to move the scoreboard from seven points to nine. During that span, the Terps took off at twenty and landed at thirty. Virginia Tech closed the half with a barrage (if two can be called a barrage) of three pointers to close to within 23 trailing 38-15 at intermission.
Unlike Saturday's men's lacrosse game, the halftime statistics in this game tracked well with the score. Virginia Tech shot 17.6 percent and were out rebounded 29-13. Maryland held a substantial edge in points in the paint (18-2), points off turnovers (6-0), second chance points (7-4), and fast break points (8-0).
Maryland's intensity lessened and Virginia Tech's play improved in the second half. The visitors shot better from both sides of the arc and, because they didn't mss as many shots as they had in the first half, were out rebounded by only seven. Still, as coach Frese continued to liberally shuttle players in and out of the lineup, the Terps continued to methodically pull away maintaining their lopsided advantage scoring in the paint, scoring off turnovers, and in second chance points.
With a bit over nine minutes to play, Thomas, who had scored eighteen, picked up her tenth rebound recording her sixty-first career double double. She led a fast break and hit Brene Moseley who made an acrobatic finish through contact for the hoop and harm. The assist was Thomas' sixth of the day but with the Terps up 69-33, Frese brought her star to the bench.
Surprisingly, she wasn't quite done for the day, With 5:54 to play, and the Terps leading 77-39, Coach Frese reinserted her starting lineup. She let that group play together for a final time for about four minutes then called a substitution timeout with 1:37 to go. Though Moseley closed out the scoring with a bit of a flourish, scoring on a slashing drive to the basket, by this point everyone was simply waiting around to see the post game ceremony placing Thomas' jersey in the rafters with seven other greats of Terrapins basketball.
Thomas finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. With 15 points she will pass Crystal Langhorne to become the all-time leader in points in Maryland women's basketball history and with 36 she will pass Juan Dixon to become number one among all Maryland basketball players. If she can pull down sixty-five more
rebounds she will pass Langhorne to become Maryland's all-time leader (male or female) in that category as well.
The ceremony opened with this video:
Even if you've seen it, it's worth watching again. Frese spoke. Someone unfurled the banner. Thomas spoke and some fans cried. Thanks for the ride AT. Thanks for the ride.