In a fourth quarter where No. 20 Maryland women’s basketball was looking to close out a road victory, the Illinois Fighting Illini would not go out without a fight.
They opened the quarter with a three-pointer and looked to add more before Taylor Mikesell pulled down a rebound, pushed the ball up the floor and found senior Sara Vujacic on the left wing, who drained a hope-killing three.
That basket started a 9-0 run by the Terps that ultimately put Illinois to rest in a 79-60 victory.
The Terps got off to a fast start against the Illini, going on an 8-0 run in the first 1:15, with the first six points being contributed by senior Kaila Charles.
Maryland went on to tally the first 10 points and made the most of a scrappy defensive effort with four points off two early forced turnovers.
Speed turned into a bit of bad news for the Terps as they turned the intensity up too high, though, as they coughed up three turnovers and gave up seven straight points to the Illini.
A Shakira Austin three-point play towards the end of the first quarter bounced things back in a positive direction, as the Terps clinched to a 22-11 lead thanks to 10 first quarter points by Charles.
Illinois faced more of the same to start the second frame, as Charles drove down the left side of the lane and was able to convert a layup with a foul to add three more points to her total.
Maryland then endured a rough patch of shooting — not scoring a basket for 3:13 — until Vujacic came off the bench and knocked home two three-point attempts to spark her team.
The Terps fought their way to the halftime break and held a 40-27 lead, at which point Charles led all scorers with 14 points, along with four rebounds. Free-throws were one area that Maryland was able to capitalize on, converting 11-of-13 attempts in the first 20 minutes.
Similarly to recent contests, Maryland came out of the half rather flat and the Illini were able to hang with the Terps to start the third quarter with a 6-4 stretch in their favor.
Blair Watson then sank a three-point attempt and Diamond Miller came through with a layup before the midway break to help spark a 7-0 run for the Terps as they climbed back out to a 55-37 lead with 3:13 left in the third quarter.
During that run, Charles made a free throw, which marked her 1,800th career point as a Terp — she is the ninth player in program history to reach that mark.
The back and forth battle continued with Illinois jumping out on a 9-2 run towards the end of the third quarter before Mikesell made her first three-pointer of the evening to put the Terps up 60-46.
Illinois looked to continue its fight early in the fourth quarter as Ali Andrews hit her fourth three-pointer of the night — making it an 11-point game.
But Maryland was able to step on the gas after Vujacic sank a three-pointer and scored six points, including two fast break layups, as part of a 9-0 run that allowed the team to coast to victory.
Three things to know
1. Maryland still struggling to shoot from the floor. In the first half, the Terps shot just 13-of-39 from the floor, including a number of missed layups under the basket. Vujacic came in and put up a 2-of-4 effort from long-range in the second quarter, but Taylor Mikesell and Blair Watson missed all nine combined three-point attempts in the first half.
The Terps ultimately finished 28-of-74 from the floor — including a 7-of-23 effort from long range.
2. Free throw shooting was important early. Maryland faced rough shooting early, but converting 11-of-13 from the charity stripe and allowing just one attempt by Illinois — which was missed — gave the Terps a much-needed cushion at the break.
The second half was a step back off the successful trail with the Terps converting 5-of-10 chances, but it did not make a difference down the stretch.
3. Faith Masonius put in some of her best minutes in Big Ten play. The freshman forward finished with eight points, five rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes of action, complimenting Austin and Stephanie Jones inside. With Olivia Owens taking a redshirt season, contributions from Masonius will be critical as March sneaks up on the Terps.