Facing their first nationally ranked opponent since playing Georgetown on November 16, the Terps found themselves unable to pull away and secure an early lead like they had done in nearly every other game this season.
Despite an impressive 15 first half points - including two 3-pointers - from Tournament MVP Diandra Tchatchouang, the Terps went into halftime with just a five point lead, beating the Red Storm 31-26. Tchatchouang finished the night with a team-high 19 points on 8-12 shooting.
I felt like at the beginning both teams were evenly matched, said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. I thought it was really hard to score because everybody had such great intensity to start the game.
St. Johns, despite shooting 26.1% from the field in the first half, shot 78.6% from the free throw line on 11-14 shooting to keep Maryland from gaining a substantial lead.
The Red Storm earned their first five points of the game by eliciting fouls and making free throws. The Terrapins were not able to earn a trip to the free throw line until nine minutes had elapsed.
When you look at how much more aggressive St. Johns was to get to free throw line over us, thats one area weve still got to improve on, said Frese.
St. Johns earned 23 free throw attempts in the game and obtained 18 points from the line while Maryland had 17 opportunities and collected 11 points.
The Terps were also outrebounded for the first time this season, with St. Johns grabbing 37 rebounds to Marylands 35.
However, the Terps defense, which proved their greatest asset in the contest, prevented the Red Storm from scoring a field goal until ten minutes into the first half and ultimately secured the win for the Terps, according to Frese.
We were tested today and it was great to be able to see how we battled, but I thought our defense was really, really good this afternoon, said Frese.
St. Johns head coach Kim Barnes Arico believes that the dominance of Marylands defense is further enhanced by their lauded size and length.
They play a 2-3 zone and you cant even match up on a wing because they take away an entire wing with their length, said Barnes Arico. We havent played against that kind of pressure and that kind of size all year.
The Terps held St. Johns usual leading scorer, Shenneika Smith, who averages 15.3 points per game, to just 7 points on 3-14 shooting.
Beginning the second half, the Terps slowly pulled away led by consistent shooting from junior Lynetta Kizer, who finished the night with 13 points and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Kizer earned 10 of her 13 points in the second half and also recorded her 1,000th career point.
Frese also acknowledged Tchatchouang and junior Kim Rodgers as essential contributors to the Terps ability to greatly extend their lead in the second half, which grew as large as 18 points.
I thought they were our calming influence. And on both ends of the floor I was really proud of both of them, said Frese. I thought their defense was tremendous, and they give us a calming presence on offense.
Although three Red Storm 3-pointers, multiple Maryland turnovers, and a concerted effort by St. Johns leading scorer Eugeneia McPherson (25 points) cut the Maryland lead down to just 5 points, the Terps were able to maintain their composure and ensure victory in the final seconds. In the last ten seconds, they prevented two potential 3-pointers by All-Tournament Team member DaShena Stevens and McPherson.
I think maybe when we looked at the clock and saw were up by twenty with five minutes left, we lost a little bit of energy and intensity [and] started being a little careless with the ball, said Rodgers. But I think thats part of being a relatively young team and not understanding that you have to keep the pressure on somebody and really put teams away.
I think it was a learning experience and luckily we were able to get the win today, Rodgers reflected.
The Terps go on the road to play St. Josephs on January 2 and will face their first Atlantic Coast Conference opponent when they travel to #3 Duke on January 6.
The Terps return home to Comcast Center on January 13 to play Boston College.