On Tuesday, March 25 at 7 p.m. the Maryland Terrapins and the Texas Longhorns faced off for the fifth time in school history, with Maryland leading the all-time series 3-1. The #4 seeded Terrapins entered the “Go Big or Go Home” battle 25-6 overall (12-4 in the ACC), while the #5 seeded Longhorns were 22-11 overall (11-7 in the Big 12). The second round matchup would determine if everything truly was bigger in Texas—unfortunately for the Longhorns, the Terrapins held on to win 69-64 and are headed to Louisville for their third Sweet Sixteen in a row where they will face off against #1 seeded Tennessee.
“Neither team deserved to lose that game—to be able to see the play of both teams between the runs and battles. It was a complete 40 minute game. I’m excited to be able to go [to the Sweet Sixteen], and we are going to make a run for the roses,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the game.
Gameplay started rough for the Terps with freshman guard Lexie Brown missing a jumper, followed by a foul by Katie Rutan, which sent Texas’s Brady Sanders to the line. She made both free throws, but Maryland’s senior center Alicia DeVaughn tied it up with a layup. Both teams went scoreless for at least the next three minutes, when Texas’s Chassidy Fussell broke the streak with a three-pointer to push Texas back in the lead by three. Back-to-back three-pointers by Terps’s guard Laurin Mincy, with a Texas jumper in between set the Terps off on a mini run, which was then stopped when Texas’s Brady Sanders returned to the line for two and make them both.
Frese attributed Mincy to be “a big piece of the runs we made tonight.” The point spread never rose more than three points until 6:44 left in the half when DeVaughn nailed a layup, sending the Maryland’s lead to five. Texas went on another short run, eventually leading by six with just over a minute and a half to go in the half. The Terps chipped at the Longhorn lead with a senior forward Alyssa Thomas shutout to tie the score at 31 at the half.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Alyssa [Thomas] with zero points and we were tied at halftime,” Frese said during the press conference. Thomas responded to questions about her not scoring in the first half, saying, “I was struggling to score and some of my teammates had a hot hand. I knew I just had to be patient and wait for my opportunity.”
The second half saw a change in Maryland’s strategy, but the Terps maintained the pace of the game. Thomas found her first points of the game at 18:21 with a jumper. Maryland got hot with 16:36 left in the game when Thomas made a jumper and was fouled which turned into an old-fashioned three-pointer for the Terps. She followed her free throw up with another layup after a missed jumper by Fussell and a rebound by Brown and the fans, a showing of 4,042, went wild. Maryland went off on another run which earned them the largest lead of the night, 11. A late run with three pointers scored first by Fussell, then back-to-back by Krystle Henderson cut the Terrapins’s lead to just a one-possession game at 2:11 to go. A layup, this time by Texas’s Imani McGee-Stafford cut the lead even further to a single point game. A missed three-pointer by Fussell, which would have given the lead to Texas, followed by a foul on McGee-Stafford which sent Mincy to the line for two (she made both), pushed the Terps’s lead back in the other direction. A missed potential game-tying three-pointer by Nekia Jones ultimately cost the Longhorns the opportunity to advance in the tournament. A late foul by McGee-Stafford, her fifth and final, sent Thomas to the line for two–she made both and thereby solidified Texas’s fate.
“Sequoia [Austin] and Chloe [Pavlech] gave me confidence. They told me they weren’t worried and told me to get to the basket and keep working,” Thomas said of her very different performance during the second half.
The big story of the night of course was Thomas being shut out in the first half to come back in the second and score 16 points, earning her 26th double-double for the season. Also leading in points was DeVaughn with 12 points and seven boards; Lexie Brown and Laurin Mincy had ten points apiece. Malina Howard, a starter early in the season also played 30 minutes and contributed nine points and three boards.
“It was poetic justice. She continued to keep fighting in practice and just kept working,” Frese said of giving Howard more than double the playing time she’s had in a single game all season.
The Terps head to Louisville, Kentucky, to play #1 seeded Tennessee on Sunday, March 30, where Coach Brenda Frese hopes to change the outcome of her two recent NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances, which have ended in losses. Sunday’s game will mark the third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen for Alyssa Thomas who played her last game at Comcast Center tonight.
“This is the most depth that we’ve had in the last four years that I’ve been here. Just the energy and how we are willing to fight for each other is definitely different. It’s going to be a special ride,” Thomas said of their road ahead for a chance at the championship title.
The game time is yet to be determined.
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