One of the best crowds of the year of 7,948 passed through the heavy security added to accommodate the attendance of the First Family at Saturday's first round NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament doubleheader. The energy was electric as the Maryland Terrapins and New Mexico State Aggies took the floor. The Terps showed a little rust from their nearly two-week layoff since winning the Big Ten Championship, committing nine first half turnovers.
First Half - Terps have Jones for hoops
The Aggies were at a considerable size disadvantage and opened the game in a two-three zone, but that didn't prevent the Terps from pounding the inside early and often. Brionna Jones scored seven of Maryland's first nine points, going 2-3 from the floor and 3-4 from the line. Maryland's other basket came on a short baseline jumper by Malina Howard as Maryland took a 9-6 lead into the first media timeout.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese opted to rest Jones after that first timeout but quickly reinserted her after her squad settled for two quick outside jumpers that saw the Aggies cut the lead to one. Once again, the sophomore center imposed her will on the game adding two more baskets to reach double-figure scoring before the game was eight minutes old.
Baskets by Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, a traditional three-point play by Brene Moseley, and a steal and layup by Lexie Brown extended the Terrapins' lead to double digits at 22-12. But the Terps couldn't stand prosperity and committed three straight turnovers. New Mexico State capitalized on two of them and chopped the lead to six.
New Mexico State head coach Mark Trakh talked after the game about facing a player like Jones, "It was like PT boats trying to attack a battleship out there. We were bouncing off right and left." He added, "Jones is a great player. She's got great touch around the basket. They were trying to get around her but it would take like three seconds to get from one side to the other. She's so fundamentally sound and well coached. We haven't seen a big kid like that all year. The way we have to defend that is to recruit. There's no magical coaching or schemes to defend a player like her."
Maryland responded with a fast break off Jones' fifth rebound of the half and a three-point jumper by Walker-Kimbrough from the right baseline prompting a timeout by Trakh. New Mexico State responded with a basket, but Jones answered with a traditional three-point play and Brown added a three-point jumper to put Maryland up 33-20.
Still, Maryland seemed intent on letting the Aggies stay within shouting distance. Its seventh turnover of the half and a late in the shot clock bailout foul let the No. 16 seed put up three points from the foul line. Laurin Mincy realized that Maryland's best option was to continue feeding Jones and she responded with her 16th point of the half.
A three-point play by Brianna Freeman and a three-point jumper by Sasha Weber pulled NMSU within 39-29, but a run-out basket by Kristin Confroy who completed a three-point play opened the lead back up to 13. Weber dropped in another three pointer and Maryland's halftime lead was 42-32.
Said Frese, "I thought we had to shake off some rust to start this game. New Mexico State came out and were very active and aggressive in terms of trying to dictate the tempo. I thought we were able to establish really early an inside presence going in to Bri [Jones]."
Jones finished the half with 16 points and eight rebounds to lead everyone in both categories. Maryland shot 53.3 percent for the half and held a 21-8 edge in rebounding. The Aggies remained within shouting distance, scoring seven points off nine Terrapins turnovers.
Second half - More Jones early and a dash of Mincy
The Terps opened the second half with possession and the Aggies opened in their zone. After Howard missed a jumper from the free throw line, Maryland decided to look inside to Jones who made two free throws. Maryland's turnover woes and a lack of defensive intensity conspired to keep New Mexico State close. Thanks to a three-point jumper by Mincy, the Terps took a 51-38 lead into the first media timeout.
Though Jones went to the bench with her third foul, the Terps began to lock down on the defensive end and slowly put real distance between themselves and the Aggies. A three pointer from the left corner by Mincy, who followed that with a pair of free throws, opened a 20-point Maryland lead at 60-40. Walker-Kimbrough's three pointer gave Maryland a 65-42 margin at the under 12 minute media timeout.
Fans hoping to see quality basketball were probably a bit disappointed as Maryland continued to demonstrate a considerable inability to protect the ball. With 8:26 to play Confroy went to the floor to protect yet another tipped ball as NMSU nearly picked up their 13th steal forcing Frese to use a timeout.
While Frese made liberal use of her bench, the closing eight and a half minutes still fell short of the sort of basketball fans want to see in the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State continued its allergy to rebounds and Maryland continued its allergy to holding onto the ball. At the final media timeout, Maryland led 70-49 and held a 42-17 edge on the glass, but the Terps also had nearly doubled up the Aggies with an unpleasing 19-10 edge in turnovers.
With a look toward a game on Monday, Maryland finished the game with no starters on the floor. New Mexico State made a pair of late meaningless three point shots and Maryland dribbled out a 75-57 win. Frese said it was, "not the most complete 40 minute game we've been able to play."
The Terps will look to end Princeton's unbeaten season in a second round NCAA game when they host the Tigers Monday night. Tip off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.