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NCAA Tournament second-round preview: No. 4-seed Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast

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After putting up over 100 points on Delaware, the Terps look to quiet a spirited Florida Gulf Coast team in the second round.

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Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The 102 points No. 4 seeded Maryland put up on the No. 13 seeded Delaware Blue Hens Friday evening in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was the highest offensive mark for the Terps since they went off for 106 on Jan. 6 against Penn State.

Maryland had five scorers in double-digits and opened the game by taking a 10-point lead into the second quarter. What’s more, is that the Terps’ defense held Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year Jasmine Dickey to four points on 2-for-8 shooting from the field.

For the home side, junior guards Ashley Owusu (24 points, six assists, one turnover) and Diamond Miller (23 points, 3.9 rebounds) led the Terps on the offensive side of the ball. Before Friday, Owusu was averaging 14 points, 3.8 assists and 2.4 giveaways per game, while Miller had been putting up 12.1 points and five boards.

Graduate guard Katie Benzan had 17 points and went 5-for-7 from three after failing to score in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament versus Indiana. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese logged 15 points and nine rebounds and graduate forward Chloe Bibby added 11 points.

Over the last four years, Maryland is 67-3 when it scores 80 or more points and it replicated that same success once again to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With the win against Delaware, Maryland improved to 18-3 all-time in first-round games and 17-0 in the first round under Frese.

Next up for the Terps is No. 12 seeded Florida Gulf Coast, a team that upset No. 5 seeded Virginia Tech on Friday, winning 84-81. The first two rounds will be played at the highest seed’s home venue, so Sunday’s matchup is set for a 3 p.m. tipoff at Xfinity Center and will air on ESPN.

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (30-2, 15-1 Atlantic Sun Conference)

2020-21 record: 26-3 (16-0 ASUN)

Head coach Karl Smesko is in his 20th season in charge of Florida Gulf Coast. Since taking over as the program’s first and only head coach, Smesko has a 545-101 record. Smesko has led his team to 10 NCAA Tournaments and six NIT appearances. He is an 11-time ASUN Coach of the Year and was the Kay Yow National Coach of the Year in 2012.

Under Smesko’s guidance, the Eagles have won 11 regular-season titles and eight conference titles. Florida Gulf Coast also has won both the regular and postseason in each of the four seasons as the most dominant team in the ASUN.

Players to know

Kierstan Bell, junior guard, 6-foot-1, No. 1 — Projected as the No. 8 overall pick in the WNBA Draft by The Athletic and No. 7 by Her Hoop Stats, Bell led both her team and the conference with 23.2 points per game. Bell has been named the ASUN Player of the Year each of the past two seasons. She also has made the All-First Team. In the Eagles’ first-round matchup with Virginia Tech, Bell had a team-high 22 points. And her season-high on the season was 39.

Tishara Morehouse, senior guard, 5-foot-3, No. 4 — Second on the team in scoring with 14.9 points a game, Morehouse runs Florida Gulf Coast’s offense to the tune of 4.6 assists a night. Along with Bell, Morehouse has been named to the All-First Team for the past two seasons and put up a season-high of 33 points this year.

Kendall Spray, graduate guard, 5-foot-7, No. 10 — In her first season in Florida after transferring from Clemson, Spray was third on the team in points per game (11). Spray also is the team’s top 3-point shooter; the Tennessee native made 45% of her threes this season on high volume (218 attempts in 32 games).

Strength

Bell. For the second straight game, Maryland will have to contend with one of the top scoring threats in the country. Bell is a consensus first-round pick in this year’s draft and is one of the craftiest scorers in college basketball. Bell isn’t the best 3-point shooter (29%), but she knocks down about half her shots from two and can also rebound the ball (7.4 boards per game).

Weakness

Height. Of the seven players who logged over 600 this season for the Eagles, Bell is the only player over six feet tall, and she is only 6-foot-1. With such a guard-heavy lineup, Florida Gulf Coast is a solid shooting team — 44% from the field, 33% from three — but running a rotation of four players all under six feet will be difficult against a Maryland team that thrives on the glass.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland’s offense keep it up? Clearly Maryland has the talent to put anywhere from five to seven scorers in double-digit scoring, but the offense had slipped a bit in conference play. Playing in a Power Five conference like the Big Ten — one of the most competitive divisions in the country — certainly poses its challenges, so lower scoring is more a byproduct of the competitiveness of the Big Ten than it is Maryland’s offense sputtering. Still, 102 points in the first round speak to the team’s status as an offensive juggernaut.

2. Can Florida Gulf Coast pull off another upset? The Eagles were a popular upset pick in many brackets, and they managed to pull it off thanks to a dominant performance from Bell, superior shooting and lock-down defense. Should it want to punch its ticket to the next round, Florida Gulf Coast again will have to execute its game plan and frustrate Maryland inside.

3. One game at a time. It's natural to think about making a deep run in March, but Maryland is a disciplined and veteran-laden team that will be focused on Sunday’s bout with Gulf Coast. In its pregame media conference, the Eagles were frustrated about receiving a 12 seed, and they showed why on Friday. Survive and advance is the popular refrain when it comes to March Madness, and Maryland will need to have another performance like the one it had against Delaware to advance to the Sweet 16.