INDIANAPOLIS — With seven minutes remaining in the third quarter in the Big Ten tournament championship, senior Blair Watson took matters into her own hands and hit a step-back three pointer over two Buckeyes from the left wing to spark the Terps.
Just under two minutes later, Ashley Owusu found Watson in the same exact spot, where she nailed her second triple of the quarter and brought the Maryland crowd to its feet as she clapped her way down the court.
Watson’s three-pointers started and capped a 10-2 run — one of many that led No. 1-seed Maryland to a 82-65 victory over No. 6-seed Ohio State to capture the Big Ten tournament title.
The title is Maryland’s fourth in school history and comes after back-to-back title game losses.
“It’s unreal,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said of the tournament run. “It took an entire team. A different player stepping up for us each game, every quarter. It took a lot of grit and tenacity.”
Things started off differently for the Terps on championship Sunday, as Shakira Austin had to battle hard for a three early points and Maryland did not enact its press until 2:21 into the game.
At the 7:13 mark, Ohio State missed a shot as the play clock expired, but a Dorka Juhasz offensive rebound led to a second-chance three-pointer by Jacy Sheldon.
The Buckeyes were able to climb out to a 16-12 lead by the 4:43 mark by shooting 7-of-11 from the field and holding the Terps to just five shots. Maryland remained in this one early thanks to a 5-of-6 effort from the line.
Maryland worked back and regained the lead at the 1:29 mark of the first quarter off of an Owusu jump shot — capping off a 6-0 run.
A foul on Owusu sent Madison Greene to the line, where she sank three free-throws to give the Buckeyes a 22-20 lead just before the end of the first quarter. Juhasz led all scorers with 10 points with two made threes.
The second quarter started off strong for Maryland, as Taylor Mikesell hit a three-pointer on the right side to give the Terps another lead and kick off a back-and-forth battle.
Owusu managed to go on a personal 7-3 run that was capped off with a tough and-one play and followed by a Stephanie Jones fast break layup with 5:21 left in the first half — forcing an Ohio State timeout.
“She’s amazing,” Jones said of Owusu after the game. “The fact that she’s able to create shots for herself and other people — you always got to look for her. The defense never can take a break with her on the court.”
The Terps won a 7-6 stretch to close the first half with a 44-35 lead. Jones led all scorers with 14 points and added six rebounds, while Owusu had 11 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Coming out of the half, each team went scoreless for 2:17, until Jones took the ball in the paint and went up once — which was blocked by Juhasz — but followed it with a harder attempt that led to a foul and two made free throws.
Watson took the lack of a made field goal into her own hands with a dribble jab at the top of the key and hit a step-back three pointer over two Buckeyes.
The effort was followed by a Braxtin Miller bucket on the other end, but Austin responded with a jumper of her own and then a block that led to an Owusu fast break layup and Ohio State timeout.
Watson hit her second three of the quarter to push the Maryland lead to 17 points, while a quick 4-3 Maryland stretch led to the Terps’ largest lead at 18 with 2:34 left in the third quarter.
“I just thought we were never going to give up and we were never going to lay down,” Watson said. “I just think it really didn’t matter who was against us, we were going to go out there and play our game and have fun doing it.”
Ohio State ended the quarter with four straight points, which Juhasz continued into the fourth by outscoring Maryland 5-3 and shrunk the lead to 12.
With 6:29 remaining, Austin took the ball at the left block and went up hard, scoring a layup and completing an and-one chance. Owusu would hit a jumper on the next possession — capping a 5-0 spurt that forced an Ohio State timeout.
Out of the timeout, Austin pulled down a board on the defensive end and Mikesell was left wide open to drain a three-point attempt with 5:13 remaining. A battle back from Ohio State shrunk the lead again, but Mikesell answered with another three-pointer with 3:18 remaining to make it a 21-point game.
The Buckeyes simply ran out of time as the Terps managed to climb their way to another Big Ten title.
“This one was incredibly special,” Frese said. “When you’ve had a couple years where you haven’t been standing there and confetti’s falling on you and you go off the court, you just realize how difficult it is. I think it’s even more because this group had to sacrifice so much to be able to put themselves in this position to be successful.”
Three things to know
1. Ashley Owusu starred once again. The freshman guard has been nothing short of spectacular during this year’s Big Ten tournament, with her performance in the championship game being her best yet. She scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting, adding 11 assists and six rebounds to almost put together her first triple-double. Having averaged 15.3 points per game in the tournament, she was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“Staying confident and focused,” Owusu said was the driving force this weekend. “I give all credit to my coaches and teammates. I come in every day and they push me to my best ability and they have a lot of confidence in me.”
2. Maryland dominated on the boards all tournament long. Sunday’s rebounding effort marked the third straight in which the Terps out-rebounded their opponent, doing so in each game of the Big Ten tournament. Led once again by Stephanie Jones, who finished the tournament averaging 11 rebounds per game, Maryland pulled down 48 boards compared to 31 for the Buckeyes.
3. The Terps were lights out from three. After shooting just over 32 percent from beyond the arc in their first two games of the tournament, Maryland saved its best for last in Sunday’s title game. The Terps shot 8-18 from three point range in this one, as Mikesell and Watson leading the effort with 4 and 3 three pointers, respectively.
“It’s going to come down to that in March,” Frese said. “You’re not going to have a lot of possessions and be able to take away so those threes were critical. Just being able to chip away offensively and defensively.”