Seniors Stefanie Murphy and Carolyn Swords had combined for 24 second-half points and ignited an 18-2 run in the first four minutes of the second half to hand the Terps a bitter home loss, their first of the season.
However, in the teams' rematch on Sunday, February 27, those youthful vulnerabilities dissolved as the No. 15/17 Terps handily defeated the Eagles 78-69 in Conte Forum.
In their final game of the regular season, the Terps radiated a sense of unshakable focus, immediately opening with a 10-0 run in the first 3:42.
Junior guards Anjale Barrett and Kim Rodgers asserted a strong perimeter presence for the Terps early on, as Barrett connected on a 3-pointer and Rodgers hit a long-range jumper in the first 3 minutes.
In a telling reversal of the teams' previous meeting, in which the Terps recorded a season-worst 5.0% (1-20) from beyond the arc, Barrett and Rodgers led the Terps to 35.7% shooting from 3-point range.
Earlier in the season we had some people struggling with confidence, said Rodgers. At this point we know that we have to hit shots and we have to step up.
The two guards also continued the Terps' recent streak of diversified scoring options, joining usual leading scorers freshman Alyssa Thomas (17 points) and junior Lynetta Kizer (14 points) to make four Terrapins in double-figures. Rodgers contributed 16 points while Barrett earned a season-high 15 points.
Barrett and Rodgers, who have been arguably the two most calming influences for the Terps all season, again demonstrated great composure in all aspects of the game - coolly evading traps set by the Eagles while on offense and tenaciously pressuring the Eagles' guards while on defense.
They played like poised veterans do, said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. They set the tone and they set the tone for forty minutes.
Barrett, Rodgers, and sophomore Dara Taylor vigilantly contained feisty senior point guard Jaclyn Thoman, limiting her court vision and helping to force the Eagles - a team that ranks second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio - to commit 17 turnovers while distributing just 12 assists. In contrast, the Terps turned the ball over just 12 times, one turnover shy of their season-low, and dished 15 assists.
Such attentive defense prevented the Eagles from successfully creating mismatches, as the Terps continually adapted to the Eagles' persistent screening. This defensive mentality also elicited multiple opportunities for steals or disruptions in play, as the Terps displayed a dedication to influencing the tempo and getting a hand on the ball whenever possible. Thomas and Kizer each grabbed 3 steals and the Terps totaled 9 as a team.
I thought it was one of the best games we've had defensively in terms of the amount of pressure that we were able to force, said Frese.
The Eagles, who rank second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage with 35.7%, shot just 15.8% (3-19) from beyond the arc under pressure from the Terps.
Sophomore Kerri Shields, who holds the school's record for most 3-pointers made by a sophomore and is averaging 37.9% from 3-point range, shot just 1-5 against the Terps.
Shields' only 3-pointer of the night tied the game at 23 with 5:29 remaining in the first half, but Kizer, Rodgers, and Thomas combined to engineer a 15-5 run to end the half, capped by yet another timely 3-pointer by Rodgers to put the Terps up, 38-28.
Desiring to prevent another second half run by Murphy and Swords, Barrett kept Maryland focused. Coming in at halftime, we were up, and the first thing I said was, 'remember what happened last game?' said Barrett. I knew that the second half was going to be crucial, and we came out with the same intensity.
Although the powerful duo of Murphy (21 points) and Swords (14 points) periodically threatened the Terps throughout the second half, they could never fully interrupt the Terps' momentum, only ever bringing the Eagles within 8 points of the Terps' lead.
With this win, the Terps have clinched the fourth seed in the ACC tournament, allowing them a coveted first-round bye. The Terps will play on Friday, March 4, at 11:00 a.m. against the winner of the Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech contest on Thursday, March 3.