The Terps and Yellow Jackets began the first half as evenly matched adversaries, battling through 6 ties and 12 lead changes with neither team able to gain a lead larger than 3 points for the first 15 minutes.
Despite facing a famously unsparing press and stifling defense by the Yellow Jackets, who rank second in the league in scoring defense, the Terrapins retained their composure throughout the first half and were finding each other well on offense.
ACC Rookie of the Year Alyssa Thomas set the tone for the Terps early on, muscling her way through pressure and demonstrating invaluable poise.
However, with 12:58 remaining in the first half, the Terps were harshly confronted with the limitations of such a physical game, as Thomas was charged with her second foul and forced to be substituted out.
In her absence, the Yellow Jackets saw much greater production from their traps, All-ACC Second Team senior Alex Montgomery (17 points) hit her first of three 3-pointers to take the lead, and the Yellow Jackets went on an 11-0 run to establish a 28-19 advantage with 2:58 remaining.
When Thomas re-entered with just under 3 minutes remaining, the Terps surged back on a 10-0 run to take a 29-28 lead at halftime.
Despite only playing 9 first half minutes, Thomas led the Terps with 8 points at the break, and rejuvenated the team's sense of urgency and hustle.
The Terps maintained control of the momentum to begin the second half, executing a 12-2 run led by two promising 3-pointers from junior Kim Rodgers (13 points), who had sealed victory for the Terps in the teams' last meeting with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
However, the Yellow Jackets soon adjusted their strategy, applying an intensified press and rattling a Terps' offense already hampered by foul troubles that had persisted into the second half.
We change our presses all the time, said Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph. We were able to adjust today [and] I really thought it disrupted [Maryland].
Under such pressure, Thomas totaled 5 fouls for the game and recorded just 12 minutes in the second half. Disappointing with the adversity that we faced, a lot of foul trouble, said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. Obviously when Alyssa only gets to play 20 minutes in a game, it's going to be difficult.
The Yellow Jackets' press proved the chief catalyst for their 17-6 run to tie the game, and junior Sasha Goodlett, who professed to have had one of the best games of her career, hit a jumper to take what would become a permanent lead, 49-47.
Goodlett, a 6'5'' center who averages 9.4 points per game, diversified a Yellow Jackets offense usually exceedingly dependent on their perimeter play, leading all scorers with 18 points. She also aided Georgia Tech in limiting the Terps' usual second-leading scorer and All-ACC Second Team member Lynetta Kizer to just 9 points.
They were physical, and did a tremendous job making things difficult down low for Lynetta, said Frese. We just had a hard time getting to the basket with their physicality.
With the Terps' leading scorers and rebounders in Thomas and Kizer severely limited, the Terps were outrebounded 36-27 and consequently outscored in second chance points 13-5.
Struggling to find productivity and manage foul trouble, the Terps were constantly having to juggle line-ups and match-ups, according to Frese. I think that's what made it so difficult in this game, she said.
Although unable to compete as explosively as usual, Kizer, always a powerful leader, exerted all her effort to pull the Terps within 2 points with 1:17 remaining, but Montgomery completed a momentum-shifting 3-point play to put the Yellow Jackets back up by 5 points and ultimately secured victory.
The Terps will now await their NCAA tournament seeding and will host the first and second rounds of the tournament at Comcast Center from March 20-23.