Maryland women's basketball won its first game of the 2016 Women's NCAA Tournament on Saturday, as the No. 2 seed Terps held off No. 15 Iona, 74-58. This was far from the boat race nearly everyone expected, but in a simple "survive and advance" world, Maryland did just that.
Five Terrapins scored in double figures. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led the way with 19 points and was a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Brene Moseley notched 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor. Brionna Jones and Tierney Pfirman added 11 each, while Malina Howard chipped in 10.
But the star of the game was Iona guard Philecia Gilmore. The 5'7 sophomore nailed 7 three-pointers on 15 attempts and led all scorers with 21 points. She was the Gaels' fifth-leading scorer at just 7.8 points per game coming in, but clearly wasn't afraid of the moment. Her shooting gave Brenda Frese's team fits all afternoon; even when she was covered, she was still finding the net.
Iona actually started strong, draining 4 of their first 5 threes. Senior guard Philecia Gilmore nailed 3 of them from the exact same spot, and six minutes into the game had surpassed her season average of 7.8 points per game. But the Terps went on a pair of extended hot streaks: an 11-0 spurt to open up the lead for the first time, and a 10-2 run to close out the first. The team started the contest 13-of-16 from the floor.
The Terrapin lead was 26-16 after one quarter and 42-27 after two. Maryland's propensity for turnovers returned in the second, which kept the game somewhat within reach. But behind 9 points each from Moseley and Walker-Kimbrough, as well as a 20-11 advantage on the glass, the Terps were definitely in control.
The margin stretched to 19 points early in the third, but Gilmore and the Gaels heated up again to cut it to 51-42. Maryland seemed to regroup during the media timeout, going on a 7-0 run in the next two and a half minutes. Even so, the Xfinity Center crowd grew anxious as calls started to favor the Gaels. The Terps took a 60-48 lead into the fourth, but none in the home contingent seemed all too pleased.
Iona scored the first 5 points of the final period, bringing the score to 60-53, but that was as close as the Gaels would come. Maryland finally cracked the code against a pressing defense, and the final minutes ended up being not so stressful, after all. The Terps were finally able to overpower Iona with both Howard and Jones on the floor; the latter played the entire fourth quarter after sitting out the majority of the first three with foul trouble.
The win is Maryland's 42nd in the NCAA Tournament and 30th under Brenda Frese. The Terps' next game will come Monday against either No. 7 Washington or No. 10 Pennsylvania.
Three things to know
1. The tourney is in full swing. And that means we're all abiding by the NCAA's rules. Even though the game was on the Terps' home floor and most fans were in red, the PA announcer never raised his voice when acknowledging Maryland baskets. Media members like myself were moved courtside, but we could only drink out of NCAA-branded paper cups, and this rule was enforced to a humorous extent.
2. The Terps only attempted 6 threes. They hit 3 of them, but it just wasn't a weapon in the same way it has been all season. Instead, Maryland pounded the undersized Gaels inside, scoring 32 points in the paint. Iona, meanwhile, was heavily reliant on the deep ball, hoisting up 30 and making 10.
3. The turnover bug is back. Maryland had 19 giveaways to the Gaels' 11. This has been the Terps' achilles heel all season, and could very likely be the culprit for an early exit from the tourney. But they held on in this one.