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Maryland women’s basketball storms past South Carolina, 85-61, in top-10 matchup

The No. 9 Terps went on the road and picked up a statement win.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Bridgeport Regional-Maryland vs Oregon David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In the nation’s first top-10 women’s college basketball matchup of the season, No. 9 Maryland completely dismantled the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks, rolling to an 85-61 victory on the road.

For the fourth time in as many games, the Terps were led offensively by a new player. This time around, Blair Watson paced the game with 20 points, shooting 7-of-15 from the floor while hitting four of her 11 attempts from beyond the arc. The junior also added five rebounds with two blocks and two steals, pouring in an all-around effort.

Five more Terps joined her in double figures, as Stephanie Jones and Kaila Charles added 18 and 17 points each, with the latter adding 10 rebounds for a double-double. Shakira Austin and Channise Lewis scored 10 points each, and they had 16 rebounds and 12 assists, respectively. Taylor Mikesell also finished with 10 points.

As has been the case this season, the Terrapins won the battle on the glass. Against a Gamecocks team that averaged over 43.3 rebounds per game heading into the night, Maryland outrebounded them by a 53-29 margin. The Terps also shot much more efficiently from the floor, posting a .478 field goal percentage to the Gamecocks’ .356.

In front of a raucous home crowd in the Colonial Life Center, South Carolina played with a fire early. Alexis Jennings hit a layup 15 seconds into the game, and just over four minutes later, the Gamecocks held a 16-4 lead. Maryland’s woes were due to four turnovers, all of which resulted in made baskets for the home team.

Down 12 points, head coach Brenda Frese did not call timeout. Instead, she left her relatively young team to fend for itself and fight through the rut, and her decision was rewarded and paid off in a big way. The Terps closed the first quarter on a 16-3 run in just over four minutes, giving them the lead heading into the next period. Taylor Mikesell and Stephanie Jones were vital, scoring nine points in two minutes to add to the run.

South Carolina likely hoped that a break in the action would end Maryland’s dominant stretch, but the Terrapins continued to push. Winning 22-19 as play resumed, the Terps scored the next 10 points in four minutes to extend its lead to 13. Led by Jones and Lewis, Maryland kept the Gamecocks from eating away at the lead whatsoever, as every South Carolina basket was matched nearly immediately. After a Watson three-pointer late in the half, the Terps entered the break winning 45-26. They closed the half on a 39-8 run, and all of a sudden, the home team was being run out of its own building.

The Gamecocks are the No. 10-ranked team in the country for a reason, and they weren’t going to go away without a fight. Injected with a renewed sense of energy and utilizing a full-court press, they went on a 13-2 run to cut the Maryland lead to just 11 points. But thanks to a healthy offensive effort, the Terps were able to stay ahead. Led by Jones and Charles, their lead never dipped into single digits as Maryland matched the home team score-for-score.

Holding a 14-point advantage heading into the final period, Maryland kept its foot on the gas pedal, continuing to trap and forcing South Carolina into turnovers and bad shots. In the end, the Gamecocks’ efforts were too little, too late as the Terps pulled away for a 24-point victory.

Three things to know

1. Blair Watson led the way. In four games thus far, Maryland has been carried by a different scorer on offense in each contest. This time around it was Watson, who has worked so hard to come all the way back from a torn ACL suffered in January. She played 36 minutes, her highest total of the season, and scored a team-high 20 points while finishing with a plus-minus of +28.

2. The first-half run was magical. Down 12 in the early going, it seemed as though the Terps had met their first real test of the season. But on the road in a tough environment, they went on a game-changing run. For the final 14-plus minutes of the first half, the Terps outscored South Carolina by a 39-8 margin, completely blowing the home team out of the water.

3. Maryland will head to Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving. The Terps won’t play until Friday, but they’ll play a back-to-back in the Puerto Rico Clasico in San Juan. They’ll kick off the tournament against Morgan State at noon ET on Friday, and then a marquee matchup against No. 14 Georgia will follow on Saturday afternoon at noon ET.