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No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball escapes No. 10 Indiana in regular season finale, 67-64

Maryland finishes the season 21-7 and 13-4 in the Big Ten.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

For the second time this season, No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball found itself in a slugfest with Indiana down the stretch.

Indiana graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary capitalized on a corner three, making her first of nine shots on the night and cutting the Maryland lead to 65-64 with 34.4 seconds to play.

With a full shot clock to work with and only a one-point lead, Maryland had to balance running the clock down with taking the best shot possible. It turned to none other than its clutch and ultra-reliable graduate student guard Katie Benzan. Benzan came through the lane for a floater to give Maryland a 67-64 advantage with 11.8 seconds to play. But, Indiana had one more chance, calling a timeout and advancing the ball.

“At first, Coach B told us go at 12 [seconds], the clock was our friend at that moment,” Benzan said. “It just, honestly, I knew Cardaño-Hillary, she’s been reaching all night, so I knew that was coming. So I knew once after she reached, I knew that the next decision was reading the help. Their bigs didn’t help up because Angel was killing them all night. So then I just read the defense and floated it right up and luckily enough it went in.”

Cardaño-Hillary had another three-point look from the corner at the buzzer, but it was way short. Air-ball.

Maryland put the finishing touches on a 67-64 lead with a key defensive stop, winning its ninth game in its last 10 tries and securing a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament.

“This game is going to be one we’ll always remember,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “A really special win that really kind of sums up our season.”

Though Maryland could no longer earn the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the stakes were still quite meaningful at the Xfinity Center on Friday night. The winner of the rematch between the two teams — Indiana defeated Maryland, 70-63, in overtime on Jan. 2 — would secure a double-bye in next week’s conference tournament, while the loser would be forced to play in Thursday’s second round.

The Terps would again be shorthanded against the Hoosiers. Junior guard Ashley Owusu, who returned from an ankle sprain at Michigan on Feb. 20, was ruled out with an illness. Sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova — a player who filled in as the seventh rotation player in her absence — was also unavailable due to being with her family.

Maryland’s crowd was alive from the jump, thanks in part to a much larger student section than usual.

Powered by a 10-0 run, the Terps raced to an early 16-6 lead with a little fewer than three minutes to play in the first quarter. It was ultimately a Maryland 13-2 stretch that lasted over five minutes, and the Terps held a 19-10 grip on the game at the end of the first quarter.

Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese was active in the first quarter with six points and four rebounds, while junior guard Diamond Miller and freshman guard Shyanne Sellers each added five points and some impact defensive plays in the first frame.

Sellers began the second quarter with a bang, drilling a triple from the wing, her second of the game, that gave Maryland a 12-point lead just seconds into the period. The Terps had a chance to put the Hoosiers away early, but a quick 7-0 run by Indiana put it right back in the game.

Maryland responded strongly, though, resembling characteristics of a championship-level team that took the blows but fought back.

The Terps outscored the Hoosiers 13-6 after Indiana’s run; a corner three from graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby extended Maryland’s lead to 35-23. Maryland drilled six of its first eight three-point attempts, stroking the nylon at an incredibly efficient rate.

Maryland had a good half, outplaying Indiana for the majority of it, but it only owned a 37-32 lead at the halftime break. The Terps left several shots short at the rim, and they probably could have had a greater lead. A corner three-pointer by graduate student guard Ali Patberg with four seconds remaining in the half made it a two-possession game at the halftime break.

Reese continued her impressive half for Maryland, going into the locker room with 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting and six rebounds through 20 minutes.

Maryland came out of the locker room with ferocity, once again extending its lead to double-digits to begin the second half. The Terps kept feeding it to Reese down low, and she did not disappoint. She powered through junior forward MacKenzie Holmes for her 17th and 18th points, bringing the Maryland lead to 47-36 with about seven minutes to play in the third quarter.

“I knew she was going to be tired tonight [coming off an injury], so I tried to wore her down as much as I could,” Reese said. “And I think they switched and put No. 10 on me, Gulbe on me, so I think that was one thing they had to do.”

The Terps led 47-38 at the third-quarter media timeout, but worry dawned over Xfinity Center as Reese was on the floor. She appeared to collide with senior guard Grace Berger, and walked into the tunnel with towels over her head before play resumed.

With Reese out of the ballgame, Indiana cut the deficit to four. Maryland held a 55-51 lead after the third quarter, and Reese returned to the floor for the fourth quarter wearing a No. 30 jersey. Reese had a cut on her nose and did not need stitches, per a team spokesperson.

The beginning moments of the fourth quarter were par for the course Friday night. Following a media timeout due to an official review, Maryland possessed a 57-53 lead with fewer than seven minutes remaining.

At the quarter’s official media timeout with four and a half minutes to play, Maryland led, 63-55. Reese used her strength for another layup to extend the Terps’ lead back to eight while also securing her ninth 20-point double-double of the season.

Indiana missed a couple of open threes late in the fourth, and Maryland maintained a 65-61 lead with fewer than two minutes remaining.

The Hoosiers had possession off a sidelines out of bounds play, and Miller was alone applying pressure in the front court. Miller went up for the steal, deflecting the ball and ultimately drawing a foul on Indiana sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil. Maryland came away from the possession empty-handed, but Miller swatted Gulbe’s shot on the other end. A lengthy review determined it was still Indiana’s basketball, and the Terps forced another stop.

Benzan dove on the floor to secure possession in a scramble before a tie-up could be called, and called a much-needed timeout. Despite the move, Indiana’s press was effective, and Maryland was called for an ensuing 10-second violation.

Regardless, Maryland was clutch in a late-game situation and closed out a huge win. It was a defining moment for the Terps, who fought adversity to land another signature win.

“This team is battle-tested,” Frese said. “They didn’t even flinch when the game get close...[they] have been through all these kinds of matchups and right now they’re one of the best teams in the country trending at the right time.”

Three things to know

1. A fast start for Maryland. The Terps were in a rush to make their mark on Friday’s contest, using a massive first-quarter run to gain a double-digit lead. Indiana, as expected, battled to keep the game tight in a battle of evenly-matched teams, but Maryland’s start was notable. Without their floor general in Owusu and playing with only six players for the majority of the game, a good start needed to happen for Maryland to earn an important victory.

2. The Terps rode the momentum of a first-half three-point barrage. Maryland’s long-range shooting was essential in its first-half performance. The Terps only made 32.1% of their two-point attempts in the first half but were saved by their 75% (6-of-8) three-point clip. Maryland did not shoot at quite the same rate from deep in the second half, but its first-half display was enough to get the job done.

3. Angel Reese was outstanding. Throughout the season, there have been times when Reese has looked simply unstoppable. Friday seemed to be one of those nights. Her dauntless persistence in the post, whether it be scoring or on the glass, was vintage Reese. Indiana has an all-Big Ten forward of its own in Holmes, but it often had no answer for Reese, who finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds.

“I just wanted to do the best for my team today and control what I can control,” Reese said, “I mean, I didn’t have that many fouls today, which is good for me. So I think I dominated inside when I could, and I think that was an advantage for me tonight.”