No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball used one of its strongest second halves of the season to take down Illinois Sunday afternoon, 82-71.
It was senior day in College Park, and senior guard Diamond Miller once again led the way, scoring 31 points, just one shy of her career high.
Here are some takeaways from the commanding victory.
The Terps continued their home-court dominance behind an explosive second half.
After a sloppy and uninspiring first half, the Terps exploded in the latter 20 minutes, putting on a clinic on both sides of the floor.
Even without starting point guard Genesis Bryant, Illinois put the pressure on Maryland early. Junior guard Makira Cook and sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill broke the Terps’ zone defense in the first half, combining for 22 points with four made threes between them.
The first 20 minutes were disappointing to say the least, with head coach Brenda Frese calling her team’s first half performance “tough to stomach“.
“Halftime came at the right time,” Miller said.
The Terps exploded out of the break, playing a near-perfect third quarter. Frese switched from zone defense to man, and it helped them force 10 turnovers, scoring 17 points off them. Five Terps finished with multiple takeaways on the afternoon.
Offensively, it was Abby Meyers who took control with 14 points in the frame.
When asked what the mentality was at halftime, Meyers said, “We wanted more, we wanted better.”
Maryland outscored Illinois 31-8 in the quarter, and 54-34 overall in the second half to bring its conference home record to 7-1.
“I think that we weren’t really locked in at the beginning of the game and obviously being locked in in the second half forced them into a lot of turnovers and a lot of steals,” senior guard Elisa Pinzan said.
Maryland’s three-point defense left a lot to be desired.
With the shot clock winding down in the opening minutes of the game, Shoup-Hill knocked down a fadeaway 3-pointer. From then on, the Illini could not miss from distance.
Led by Shoup-Hill, they turned XFINITY Center into a shooting gallery in the first half, knocking down eight of 12 3-pointers, propelling them to a commanding 37-28 lead at the break.
Frese applauded the Illini’s shooting performance.
“Traditionally they had shown that they weren’t a great three-point shooting team,” she said. “They came out on fire today.”
For Maryland, it started ice cold from distance, ending the first half shooting 0-for-10 from downtown.
“We were uncharacteristically cold,” Frese said.
Maryland spent the majority of the first half of the season as one of the worst three-point defending teams in the nation, but its defense had been much improved since the new year.
“We were caught ball watching a lot ... and then you know we got a lot more aggressive and we played man the entire second half,” Frese added. “So maybe it was poor coaching or overthinking it in the first half.”
The Terps reverted back to some bad habits Sunday, getting dominated on both ends from beyond the arc.
While the second-half defense was much improved for the Terps, holding Illinois to just four made triples, they stayed ice cold shooting from distance, ultimately finishing 0-for-17.
“We were forcing shots and not being disciplined,” Meyers said.
Not often will a team score 80 points without hitting a three, but Maryland clawed its way to that feat Sunday with 56 points in the paint.
A happy sendoff on senior day.
Four seniors — Pinzan, Meyers, Faith Masonius and Miller — were honored before Sunday’s game for senior day, and all four proved important in Sunday’s win.
“Just really, really proud for these four seniors. You know, for what they’ve given to our program,” Frese said. “Your senior game is something that you’ll always remember.”
For Masonius and Miller, two New Jersey natives, Sunday was especially special, as they are both in their fourth years with the program.
Masonius, who tore her ACL last season, had a deep connection with Sunday’s celebration.
“Obviously today was special for me. The year coming off injury last year was not great, not fun for me. But coming back and having such a great year with a great new team is a lot of fun. I’m just happy to be able to celebrate it here,” she said.
For Miller, she made the tough decision to come back to Maryland this year with more than half of last year’s roster going elsewhere.
“You learn a lot in college for four years because you see people coming back and you’re like, ‘What do I do next?,’” Miller said. “You just got to realize that everybody has different journeys and this was my journey.”
Meyers, a Potomac, Md. native, decided to come to College Park in her final year of eligibility after spending three years at Princeton.
“A full circle moment, but I’m back home.”
All four seniors started, with Miller finishing with 31 points and nine rebounds. Meyers was just behind her with 18 points and four steals. Masonius added six points and six boards while Pinzan had three assists and two steals.