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Maryland women’s basketball survives Michigan, 73-72, to reach Big Ten final

The top-seeded Terps advance to their fifth title game in as many Big Ten seasons.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament - Maryland vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland women’s basketball already won the Big Ten regular season title, and now it’s headed to the Big Ten tournament championship game after a nail-biting 73-72 win over Michigan in Saturday’s semifinal.

After the Terrapins went wire-to-wire against Michigan State on Friday afternoon, they blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and trailed with 20 seconds to go. After a controversial timeout call 10 seconds later, Kaila Charles sunk a pair of free throws to put Maryland ahead. And when Hallie Thome had a chance at the game-winning layup in the closing seconds, Shakira Austin—now Maryland’s single-season leader in blocks—swatted the shot away and the Terps held on.

Just one day after leading the Terps with 21 points, Charles turned in another strong performance to bring Maryland to victory. She scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting—including a clutch 8-of-9 from the charity stripe, adding six rebounds and three assists to contribute in all facets of the game.

Blair Watson made 5-of-9 from the field—including a terrific 4-of-7 from three-point territory—for a 14 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Stephanie Jones, dependable as ever, also added 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. And in her second straight start, Channise Lewis scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting while adding six assists; the sophomore guard averaged just 3.9 points per game entering Saturday.

Maryland’s offense struggled at times on Saturday, as it made just 31.6 percent of its three-point attempts compared to a 10-of-18 performance from the Wolverines. But the biggest discrepancy of the game came on the defensive side, as the Terrapins were dominant inside the paint. They blocked a total of 13 shots on the night, including the game-sealing swat from Austin.

Three-pointers were in abundance early on, as each team had a pair of triples in the first four-plus minutes of the game. For Maryland, it was Watson and Mikesell, the latter of which tied the score at 10 heading into the under-five timeout. Coming out of the break, the Terrapins picked up their play. A quick 7-2 run put them ahead by five under four minutes to play, and the teams traded baskets until the Terps had a 23-21 lead heading into the second quarter. Within two minutes, they were leading by eight points and seemed on their way to a potential blowout.

But once Charles’ free throws put Maryland up 31-23, Michigan found its groove. The Wolverines immediately went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to just one point. Some timely baskets by Watson put Maryland up three with 3:27 remaining, but then the Terps forgot how to score. The Wolverines scored six points over the last three minutes to take a 40-37 lead into halftime.

A pair of three-pointers put Michigan up 46-40 less than a minute into the second half, but the Terrapins then turned it on. A quick 8-0 run ensued over the next 95 seconds, capped off by Watson’s fourth triple of the game at the 7:43 mark to put Maryland up by two points. From that point on, it never trailed for the rest of the game. The Terps closed the quarter on a 17-8 run, led by Lewis’ six points to extend the lead to 65-56 entering the final period of play.

While the fourth quarter has historically been Maryland’s best, it certainly wasn’t on Saturday. A pair of three-pointers from Nicole Munger allowed the Wolverines to jump out to an 11-4 advantage in the period, and with her team down 69-67, she hit a clutch triple to give Michigan the lead with just over a minute to play.

On the ensuing possession, Charles showcased her skill with a lethal crossover stepback jumper to put Maryland ahead by one point with 50.1 to go. Michigan drained the shot clock down and Naz Hillmon was able to get a go-ahead putback layup following an offensive rebound.

With 10.3 seconds to go, Charles hit a go-ahead layup after fighting through a trio of Michigan defenders. However, the referees awarded Maryland a timeout, though Brenda Frese’s signal seemed to come when the ball was already in the air. On the inbounds play, she was fouled and hit both free throws to take the lead.

In between free-throw attempts, Brenda Frese made the call that showcased her Coach of the Year abilities. She subbed in Austin for defense, and after Michigan drew up a play to potentially win the game, the freshman center swatted away Thome’s layup with 1.5 seconds left. The ensuing inbounds pass was bobbled and Michigan wouldn’t get another shot.

Three things to know

1. Maryland got contributions from all over. Against Michigan State on Friday, it was the Kaila Charles and Stephanie Jones show, as it’s been pretty much all season long. But against the Wolverines on Saturday, Maryland’s win was due to a successful ensemble act. Five Terrapins finished in double figures, including critical contributions from Blair Watson and Channise Lewis, who combined for 24 points.

2. The third quarter won the game. Maryland blew an eight-point lead in the second quarter to trail by three heading into the second half. And once the third quarter began, the Terrapins immediately trailed by six points. But once down 46-40, they ended the period on a 25-10 run to get back ahead by nine entering the fourth quarter. And the way that the final period started, they needed every point in the third to secure the win.

3. Maryland is on to the championship game. The Terrapins don’t know who they are playing just yet—Iowa and Rutgers still are yet to play—but they are in the Big Ten tournament championship game after earning the No. 1 seed with a great regular season. If the Terps can win Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament may be in store. Maryland split two matchups with Rutgers and lost its lone game against Iowa.