The Maryland women's basketball team didn't make life easy for itself or the fans. After building a 15-point lead just four minutes into the second half, the Terps saw the Ohio State Buckeyes chip away several times, cutting the lead to a single point. Through the tense final minutes, the Terrapins' shells never cracked and the Buckeyes could never quite get over the hump as the the Terps held on for a thrilling 77-74 win to capture the Big Ten Tournament Championship.
First half - Thriller
The game started at a frantic pace with the Buckeyes hot from the floor and the Terps hot on the boards. Ohio State, showing the confidence they'd developed over the last 10 or so games, attacked Maryland off the bounce and fueled by a three point jumper by Freshman and Co-Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell and a pair of layups the Buckeyes ran out to a 7-2 lead.
Maryland responded with an 8-0 run and took a 10-7 lead into the first media timeout that Ohio State promptly erased, scoring off a pair of free throws and a short jumper by Shayla Cooper. Laurin Mincy's second three pointer of the half and an offensive rebound by Kiara Leslie that led to Shatori Walker-Kimbrough's short jumper in the lane gave Maryland a 17-12 lead and prompted a timeout by Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff.
Leslie's athleticism paid off again as the freshman came from nowhere to steal a pass at one baseline, then took a pass from Lexie Brown on a backdoor cut to give the Terps a seven-point lead. But a Buckeyes basket and a Terps turnover sent OSU on a 4-0 run that closed the gap to 19-16.
Leslie's three pointer put the Terps up by six, but Ohio State again answered with a four-point run. Five straight points by Brown again opened a bit of breathing room for Maryland, but Cait Craft's three pointer and Mitchell's driving layup knotted the score at 27 and led to a timeout called by Maryland coach Brenda Frese.
The Terps regained the lead out of the timeout on a three-point jumper by yet another freshman, Kristen Confroy. Brown's NBA-range three pointer put the Terps up by six. The free throw line was kind to the Buckeyes in the first 16 minutes where they made five of six and held a five point edge over the Terps who had yet to make a trip to the charity stripe with less than four minutes to play in the half, but still managed to cling to a 33-29 lead at the final media timeout of the half.
Mitchell's layup and one of two from the line by Ameryst Alston trimmed the margin to one. Leslie drove the baseline and picked up the Terrapins first free throw attempts of the half. The freshman made one of two but Mincy grabbed the rebound and Leslie found Malina Howard open for a layup.
With Brionna Jones on the bench with two fouls, Howard crashed the boards aggressively. The junior grabbed her eighth rebound of the half -- an offensive rebound of Walker-Kimbrough's miss for her third basket of the half. Two free throws by Brene Moseley who entered the game with 3:09 to play when Brown went to the bench with blood on her arm. Moseley, in a less athletic repeat of the end of the first half in the semifinals scored on a rebound just before the clock expired to open Maryland's lead to 42-34 at the end of the first half.
The Terps held a 29-18 edge on the boards led by Howard's eight with Leslie and Mincy each grabbing four. The big difference in the half, however, came from behind the arc where the Terps shot a scorching 7-of-10 while holding the Buckeyes to 2-of-9.
Second half - Even more Thriller
Maryland's lead reached double digits for the first time on the opening possession of the half when Brown sunk a three pointer from the right corner. The Buckeyes' first point of the half came when Alston made one of two free throws after Jones picked up her third foul. When Walker-Kimbrough made the Terps' ninth three pointer of the game, the lead extended to 50-35. With 16:25 to play, Ohio State had yet to make a second half field goal; McGuff had to use a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Mitchell scored the Buckeyes' first field goal on a drive to the basket. The Terps answered with Leslie finding Mincy for a layup, but Craft's three pointer shaved the lead to 52-40 at the first media timeout of the half.
Five straight OSU points out of the timeout, including a three pointer by Mitchell, dropped Maryland's lead to seven before another put-back by Howard briefly stopped the momentum. However, as the Terps struggled with both Ohio State's press and half court zone, baskets by Cooper and Mitchell powered a 16-4 Ohio State run that had Maryland clinging to a three-point lead with 11:54 to play.
Jones reentered the game and immediately picked up an offensive rebound, a put-back basket, a blocked shot, and a charge. All that activity resulted in Maryland leading 56-51. Mitchell's three after Jones was whistled for her fourth foul brought the Buckeyes within a basket.
After a near shot clock violation by Maryland, Mitchell grabbed the long rebound off Walker-Kimbrough's desperation three and drove the length of the court, but the Terrapins defense recovered and forced a miss that would have tied the score at 56. Walker-Kimbrough returned the favor grabbed the rebound, drove the length of the floor for a layup. She missed the opportunity to convert the three-point play, but McGuff was called for a technical foul protesting a non-call on another Mitchell drive.
Brown made one of two but the Terps failed to convert on the ensuing possession. Ohio State did as Alston converted a pair of free throws and the Buckeyes converted a Maryland turnover into an Alexa Hart layup to pull within one. Howard and Mitchell traded a pair of free throws and Maryland turned over the ball on an offensive foul by Moseley.
Walker-Kimbrough's rebound and short jumper kept the Maryland lead at three. The free throw parade continued as Alston made one of two and Brown made a pair. After Mitchell's basket, Jones muscled a rebound off a Mincy miss and scored to put the Terps up 71-67. She repeated the feat after Asia Doss missed a three pointer. With Mitchell headed to the free throw line, Maryland led 73-67 at the final media timeout.
Mitchell made one of two and the Terps offense stagnated as Mincy missed a three pointer late in the shot clock. That opened the door for Mitchell's three pointer from the right wing and Maryland's lead was 73-71 with 2:37 to play as McGuff used his third timeout.
Walker-Kimbrough made a pair of free throws and Craft missed a three pointer. The rebound went out of bounds and Maryland tried to run the clock and committed a shot clock violation with the lead at 75-71. Mitchell turned the ball over but Craft ran down Walker-Kimbrough who returned the favor as she drove to the basket. Craft used the energy to drain a three from the left corner and the Buckeyes were within one at 75-74.
Mincy missed her drive and Alexa Hart grabbed the rebound. Ohio State would have what appeared to be the last possession. The ball went into the hands of Mitchell and great defense by Brown forced a travel. With seven seconds left the Terps got the ball into Brown who dribbled off 3.2 seconds before she was fouled by Craft. The sophomore guard calmly made both free throws.
Craft got the ball in to Mitchell whose desperation three from two steps inside half court grazed off the rim and the Terps had survived a stunning comeback effort by the Buckeyes and laid claim to the Big Ten Tournament crown 77-74.
The win extended Maryland's win streak to a program equaling 24 consecutive games. Brown led the Terrapins with 19 points and dished six assists with only a single turnover but Maryland would not have claimed the title without the efforts of Malina Howard's 12 points and 12 rebounds as Jones spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble.
Over the three days, the Terrapins got contributions up and down the roster as demonstrated by the appearance of only Lexie Brown, the Tournament's Most Valuable Player, on the All-Tournament team. Whether it was Howard in the final, Moseley in the semifnals, Kiara Leslie, Kristen Confroy or others on the roster, this was truly a team victory.