With 3:27 remaining in the first quarter, senior wing Blair Watson geared up and launched a three-point shot, but it didn’t fall through.
Fellow senior Stephanie Jones was right there to keep the play alive though, as she fought off two defenders inside to corral the offensive board and lay the ball home with contact.
That layup and subsequent and-one free-throw was one of the many three-point scores early on that helped No. 7 Maryland women’s basketball take down Minnesota, 99-44, and win a share of the 2019-20 Big Ten Regular Season Title.
The Terps won 14 games in a row to end the regular season to clinch the shared title — their fifth share or outright win in six years of playing in the Big Ten. Northwestern tied the Terps with a 16-2 conference record, but because Maryland had better record against third-place Iowa, it will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.
And Maryland did so in dominant fashion, securing nine of those victories — including Sunday’s game — by 25 points or more. And the win over the Minnesota was the team’s second consecutive by at least 43 points.
Minnesota came out fighting at the start, taking a 4-0 lead. The Golden Gophers extended it to 6-1 before the Terps managed to convert on five-straight possessions — including two Taylor Mikesell three-pointers — to take a 14-9 lead into the first break.
Out of that break, Mikesell came out to drain another three-point shot that gave Maryland an eight-point lead.
Though when the long-range shots weren’t falling, the Terps were still able to score in threes as Jones and Kaila Charles each had three-point plays inside during the first quarter.
Diamond Miller also provided early minutes in the final game of the regular season, and was able to drain a long-range shot of her own in the final two minutes of the first quarter.
Maryland was able to climb out to a 30-13 lead thanks to going 5-of-9 from three-point range — including Mikesell leading all scorers with nine points thanks to three makes of her own in 10 minutes.
Both teams struggled to convert early on in the second quarter, but Charles broke through with a fast break layup assisted by Mikesell to take a 32-13 lead 2:28 into the quarter —forcing a timeout from Minnesota head coach Lindsay Whalen.
Another 2:17 stretch of scoreless play occurred and was broken by a quick layup from Mikesell thanks to a sneaky Watson pass, and gave both teams a bit more of a spark.
Maryland carried a 45-19 lead into the half behind 13 points each from Jones and Mikesell. The Terps shot 55.2 percent through the first 20 minutes while holding the Golden Gophers to just 28.6 percent from the floor, including a 2-of-10 mark from three-point range.
Just over a minute into the third quarter, Maryland had already scored two layups and Ashley Owusu continued that trend. The freshman guard fought to the inside and laid in a basket of her own, drew a foul and sank another Maryland three-point play — forcing another Minnesota timeout with 8:53 remaining in the quarter.
After the timeout, a forced held-ball gave Maryland possession, and Mikesell drained two three-point shots in 41 seconds, giving the Terps a 58-21 lead.
Maryland eventually found itself in the bonus before the midway point of the third quarter, and upped its defensive pressure, going on a 7-0 run that was capped off by a Charles three-point play with 3:43 remaining in the third quarter.
The Terps led 83-39 after the third quarter where they forced 10 turnovers, went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and made nine of 11 free-throw attempts. Minnesota also continued to struggle in transition, as Maryland scored 19 fastbreak points in just 10 minutes.
A rather slow 8-0 Maryland run took up the first 3:59 of the fourth quarter, forcing Minnesota called another timeout to attempt to regroup down the stretch. But it didn’t stall the Terps as they bumped the run to 12-0 before Golden Gopher Sara Scalia nailed a three-pointer.
Both teams combined for six straight misses within a two minute stretch of play before freshman Faith Masonius was able to score a fastbreak layup with under a minute remaining, capping off the 55-point victory for the Terps.
Three things to know
1. Maryland used its fast play to stun the Gophers. The Terps’ speed really seemed to knock Minnesota off its early rhythm, as they held a 15-0 advantage in fast break points and forced 13 turnovers. In the second half, Maryland forced 21 Minnesota turnovers and tallied a 23-4 advantage on the fast break despite playing more of its bench, as Masonius led the team with five steals and Sara Vujacic had a steal-and-score of her own.
2. Head coach Brenda Frese shook up the lineup for the third game in a row. Maryland had used Shakira Austin and Jones together in the starting lineup for 13 games in a row ahead of senior night, but the four-senior lineup was followed Sunday by Owusu getting her first start since Jan. 6 against Ohio State. This move shows off the Terps’ abundance of talent, as they can face-off with teams by using both big and small starting lineups.
Back in the starting five, Owusu finished with 17 points, five assists and four steals.
3. Mikesell struck fire at the right time. In a season where Maryland has struggled to be consistent shooting from long-range, Mikesell scored 22 points and shot 8-of-12 from the field — including a 6-of-8 mark from three-point range. She previously set a career-high of 23 points against Georgia Southern earlier this season, in which she hit seven long-range shots.