What went wrong in Maryland's 73-70 loss in the ACC quarter-final against the North Carolina Tar Heels Friday night? Perhaps it was UNC having a chance to work out their nerves by playing Thursday night. Maybe it had something to do with the loss of power at the team hotel on gameday.
Here a list of at least three things you can't do if you're going to beat a quality team:
You can't have 14 first half turnovers.
You can't miss nine free throws.
You can't make 8.3 percent (1-12) of your three point shots.
Here's how the game went: The Terps looked a bit tense at the outset pinching shots and turning the ball over. Maryland coach Brenda Frese starting substituting freely early perhaps to give some of the shaky players a chance to take a look at the flow of the game from the bench and calm their nerves a bit.
Of course, it's hard to get settled when you miss your first five shots before Alyssa Thomas broke the ice on assist from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. The freshman, playing with total aplomb seemed to be just the medicine the Terps needed to get themselves started. Somewhat ironically Maryland also got an early lift from Laurin Mincy who came off the bench to grab two early rebounds scoring on an offensive put back.
Though they had finally started finding the basket, the Terps continued to have trouble with the Tar Heels defensive pressure turning the ball over ten times in the first twelve minutes. "This game was impacted in the first half with how Carolina came at us so aggressively," Frese said in something of an understatement. "We were back on our heels and you spot a great team like Carolina eleven points you're fighting the entire second half to come back."
Another piece of the flow of the game that impeded Maryland's efforts to get back in it early, came when the Terps most productive inside players got in early foul trouble with both Brionna Jones and Alicia DeVaughn going to the bench with two fouls and over seven minutes to play in the half.
Still, Maryland's defense and rebounding kept them in the game early but continued problems with turnovers and some poor decisions such as launching three pointers early in the shot clock allowed the Tar Heels to open some breathing room taking a 28-20 lead with 2:44 left in the half. In those last few minutes, UNC also which propelled them into halftime with an eleven point lead at 37-26.
Frese was going to have to work some magic at in the locker room to settle her team down and get them to start playing Maryland basketball. The main focus had to be getting them to stop turning the ball over. The Terps finished the first half with 14 turnovers and 5 assists hugely uncharacteristic of a team that had a 1.34 assist to turnover ratio during the regular season. They compounded their turnover difficulties by shooting 35.5 percent and missing all five of their three point attempts also uncharacteristic of a team that shot nearly fifty percent on the season and made almost thirty-seven percent from behind the arc.
The second half got off to a much better start for Maryland. The Terps looked determined to pound the ball inside and had immediate success when Brionna Jones drew a foul and Carolina fumbled the rebound on the missed free throw. The possession generated a traditional three point play from DeVaughn and the eleven point halftime deficit quickly became seven.
Early on it looked as though the Terps had transferred the turnover bug that plagued them in the first half to UNC as the Tar Heels picked up three turnovers in the first 2:34 of the half.
The pound the ball inside strategy had to take a brief hiatus when both DeVaughn and Jones picked up their third fouls before the first media timeout. Attacking the basket did pay an early dividend as Maryland went into the bonus with 15:25 to play.
However, the game may have pivoted at that point when Thomas missed the front end of a one and one and the Terps' chance to cut the lead from six to four evaporated and a Carolina basket followed by a Maryland turnover that led to a breakaway pushed the Tar Heels lead back to double digits.
In this stretch, the Tar Heels built the lead to fourteen leading 52-38 with 12:37 to play. The Terps responded with a seven point run to halve the lead but weren't able to penetrate Carolina's advantage any further.
By the under eight media timeout, the first half script had flipped everywhere but the scoreboard. Maryland had only two turnovers to Carolina's five but the Tar Heels had chopped three off the Terps edge on the glass. They were again aided in this effort by the absence of DeVaughn and Jones who were on the bench in foul trouble. Their absence also opened the inside for Diamond DeShields' penetration into the lane for easy shots and Alisha Gray's rebounding when the Heels did miss. The Terps had few answers defensively for DeShields and Alisha Gray who combined to score 39 of UNC's 73 points.
For all of their problems, the Terps had chances to make key plays down the stretch that might have led to them overcoming all the errors. The Terps held Carolina without a field goal for the last 4:52 of the game.
First, trailing 70-64 after Mincy made one of two free throws, Maryland played thirty seconds of great defense forcing DeShields to launch a desperation three point jumper as the shot clock expired. However, the Terps failed to complete the defensive stand by not securing the rebound. This led to a Stephanie Mavunga free throw and a seven point UNC lead with 3:11 to play.
Then, the Terps then rattled off six straight culminating with a jumper by Thomas with 1:35 to go that brought them within one. After two more Tar Heels misses, Jones pulled down a rebound and got the ball ahead to Thomas who pulled up in the lane and had her shot partially blocked by Gray.
Maryland's next opportunity came 22 seconds later when Thomas rebounded another Tar Heels miss, brought the ball down the court and passed to Shatori on the wing but the freshman missed the jumper.
The final missed chance came when DeVaughn rebounded Walker-Kimbrough's miss muscling it away from a Tar Heel defender. The Terps called timeout and got the ball into Thomas' hands but the senior dribbled into trouble and turned the ball over as the defense collapsed around her.
So, on the night when she became Maryland women's basketball's all time leading scorer, Thomas will have to take solace in the fact that her career isn't quite over. Perhaps redemption awaits for her and her teammates when they start play in the NCAA Tournament.