Despite No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball controlling most of the game, No. 13 Michigan found a way to bring the Terps’ lead back down to seven with 5:11 left in the game.
Maryland senior guard Lavender Briggs, who has had her fair share of struggles this season, nailed a clutch triple to bring Maryland’s lead back to double digits. Briggs finished the game with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and was the “X-factor” according to head coach Brenda Frese in the Terps’ 72-64 victory.
“I was open and my teammates were feeding me the ball tonight. I just felt good,” Briggs said. “I felt confident.”
Maryland and Michigan entered Thursday fighting for sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten, with the Terps holding a one-game lead in the loss column. Michigan had won the past two meetings, leaving the Terps with a three-year gap since their last win against the Wolverines at home.
“It was definitely important to get this one back. Especially because we all know what happened last year when we got embarrassed on our home court,” Miller said.
When asked about her team’s effort from the jump Thursday, Frese applauded her team’s steady growth throughout the season.
“We showed today we can do that every time we step out on the court ... super proud of this group because it was going to take a 40-minute effort.”
The battle between two closely-matched teams was unsurprisingly tight from the start.
After three unsuccessful tipoff attempts, things finally got going and the intensity ramped up quickly, with Maryland senior guard Diamond Miller shoving a Michigan defender to the ground after an early steal.
Michigan’s size advantage caused early trouble for the Terps, but they played aggressively on the glass and on defense.
“The thing that right now is really separating us is defensively. I thought we set the tone tonight,” Frese said.
The energy that Maryland brought Thursday didn’t seem to faze the Wolverines until just past halfway into the first quarter, when Maryland rattled off a 13-2 run to end the frame behind some explosive plays from Miller, who had nine of Maryland’s 22 points after the opening 10 minutes.
“I was just playing hard for my teammates,” Miller said.
The Wolverines top scorer, 6-foot-3 graduate forward Emily Kiser, was held in check all night, finishing with 11 points; she came in averaging close to 18 per game.
With the Terps up seven entering the second quarter, the energy remained high, and Maryland was the team that continued to have the edge in that department. It forced 14 turnovers and scored 17 points off them in the first half, compared to just two points for Michigan.
The dislike between the two teams was evident all night, with a lot of hard fouls, commentary from the crowd and benches and tough baskets dictating the game.
Just like the opening quarter when Miller was on the court, good things continued to happen for the Terps. Pressuring numerous loose balls on the perimeter and dominating at the basket, the Wolverines couldn’t find an answer for Miller. The senior guard got a standing ovation as she headed to the bench with 3:03 to go in the half and the Terps holding a 14-point lead. Miller’s 13 points and three steals led all players at the half.
Despite a fairly even half in terms of stats, Maryland held a clear edge in transition play and defensive pressures, holding the Wolverines to their lowest first half total since a Dec. 31 loss against Ohio State.
“Defense won us this game,” Frese added.
Coupled with 17 combined points from senior guard Abby Meyers and sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers, the Terps went into the break with a 39-29 advantage.
Meyers had a great night on the boards as well, finishing with a double-double.
“Keep things simple: attack the boards, rebound, pass,” Meyers said. “I guess I had a nose for the ball today.”
Both teams looked out of sorts offensively to start the second half, with the Wolverines seemingly only trying to find points in the paint. While that made sense due to their height advantage, Maryland’s interior defense continued to stay strong, limiting Michigan to 15 points in the third quarter.
The Wolverines never established inside dominance Thursday, losing the points in the paint battle 28-24, an unexpected number.
Maryland’s lead was stuck at 12 headed into the fourth quarter against a Wolverine squad that averaged over 77 points per game coming into Thursday.
Michigan finally found ways to outmuscle the Terps inside, getting a couple quick free throws, trimming the lead to single digits in the final frame. While it got tested late, and with Miller having five fouls, Maryland didn’t break.
“[Diamond] played so hard tonight. That’s what she’s capable of doing every single night And I really thought I mean she was really aggressive even through those five fouls,” Frese said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s biggest win of the conference season. With the Big Ten being the most competitive conference in the country, each game matters that much more. Maryland secured its impressive fourth ranked victory of the season, downing the No. 13 Wolverines. Michigan’s only conference losses before Thursday came to No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Indiana and No. 10 Iowa. Coming into Thursday, it was just one game back of the Terps in conference standings, but now sits two games back. This win should allow Frese’s Terps to sustain their position in the top 10 of next week’s AP poll while also keeping them in striking distance of the conference’s top three.
2. Defensive intensity won the game. Maryland was the more energetic and intense team for the entire 40 minutes. Frese has hounded on the team’s need to play strong defense for four quarters, and they did that, dominating with points off turnovers and holding the Wolverines to just 64 points, their third-lowest mark of the season.
“We definitely wanted to throw a lot of different looks at them,” Frese said. “It was important for us to keep them off balance and you know, with some of the full-court stuff.”
3. Diamond Miller’s early dominance paved the way. Leaders lead, and Miller showed the way to victory. She made her presence felt right off the opening tip, and her sustained effort epitomized a total team win. She started the game with nine quick points, and finished with 23 to lead all scorers. She also added five steals.