COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In her final regular season home game, Alyssa Thomas had her jersey hung from the Comcast Center rafters. Tuesday night in her actual final home game – a 69-64 second round NCAA Tournament triumph over Texas – Thomas yanked down the decisive rebound.
It was an even more memorable finish and in fact, Thomas recorded her 26th double-double this season and the 64th of her career, totaling 11 rebounds to go with 16 points, all scored in the second half as No. 4 seed Maryland pulled away from a halftime deadlock. The game wasn't decided, though, until Thomas pulled down that defensive rebound and hit two clinching free throws with eight seconds left.
"It was just a great team effort," said Thomas, who also had five assists. "We knew we needed a stop and that was like a moment of relief to know we had this one in the bag."
The Terrapins (26-6) advance to their third straight Sweet Sixteen and will meet top-seeded Tennessee March 30 in Louisville, Ky.
"Like I told them in the locker room, we're not finished," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. "We're excited to be able to go and we're going to make a run for the roses."
But it certainly didn't come easily against a big, strong Texas team that turned around from a 12-18 record a year ago to finishing 22-12 this season. Maryland battled to a commanding 42-33 edge, grabbing nine more boards than the Longhorns in the second half as Thomas and the Terps got their running game going to take control.
Fellow senior Alicia DeVaughn, who had just one point and four rebounds in a sub-par showing in Sunday's win over Army, bounced back in a big way with 12 points and seven rebounds. She hit all three of her field goal attempts and all six of her free throws, all while battling inside against 6-7 Imani McGee-Stafford.
"I knew it was going to be a physical game and I just wanted to stay focused," said DeVaughn. "We had to be prepared for the physicality and just keep going."
The Terrapin bench again played a starring role, former starter Malina Howard chipping in nine points and three rebounds in 30 minutes, her most time since the third game of the season against UConn.
Maryland had finally built a double-digit lead midway through the second half when the Longhorns stampeded back late. Trailing 63-53 after freshman Lexie Brown hit a stop-and-fade from 15-feet that would have made her NBA dad proud, Texas got a deep 3-pointer from Chassidy Fussell, the second of four threes the Longhorns drained over the final 7:33.
Thomas stole an offensive rebound and fed a wide-open Shatori Walker-Kimbrough for what seemed a demoralizing score but Krystle Henderson hit back-to-back threes, the second a bank from the top of the key that made it 65-62 with 2:09 to play. Henderson led Texas with a career-high 14 points off the bench.
After a timeout, Thomas got tangled in a scrum and lost the ball, the towering McGee-Stafford finishing at the other end to make it a one-point game.
Brown missed a jumper and heard about it from Frese in an ensuing timeout but Texas couldn't cash in, Fussell missing a good look on a three and Laurin Mincy ending up with the ball and a trip to the free throw line.
Mincy, who had 10 points in 24 minutes, hit both freebies with 29 seconds left for a 67-64 advantage, and the Maryland defense forced Nekia Jones into a tough 3-point attempt that Thomas corralled with the sad eyes of Texas on her.
Thomas' two free throws in the waning seconds started the celebration for her and four other seniors playing their final, final game at Comcast.
"This is the most depth that we've had in the four years I've been here," said Thomas. "Just the energy and how we're willing to fight for each other, it's going to be a special ride (the rest of the tournament)."
Earlier, two Terrapin turnovers had allowed Texas to cut the Longhorns' six-point deficit back to 44-41 at 13:54, when Brianna Taylor scored in transition. DeVaughn got back-to-back offensive boards, though, and cashed in with two free throws, and then after a Maryland press forced a turnover, Brown hit a baseline jumper to make it 48-41 at 12:11.
The Longhorns answered with a second chance three from Henderson. Two more DeVaughn free throws – a rarity for the Terps in a first half when the Longhorns pounded the ball inside – a Thomas jumper and a free throw from AT, and then an inside score from Howard provided the game's first double digit lead, Maryland going up 55-44 at 9:24.
"Our defense was key in this game," said Brown, who had 10 points and five assists. "We had to shut down the bigs and ball pressure. We didn't let Imani have many touches."
The big Texas center finished with six poins and six rebounds.
Thomas had come out on fire to start her last half of basketball at Comcast. Her seven points out of the locker room propelled Maryland to a 44-38 lead and forced Texas to call timeout at 15:46. She hit three of four shots and had three rebounds over that span.
Maryland put together a quick 7-0 run, started by DeVaughn's two free throws and then with two coast-to-coast forays by Thomas, the first a three-point play, and the second, a spinning score that elicited oohs and ahs from the Comcast crowd of 4,042. The Terrapins hit five of their first seven second-half shots to earn that lead, and Texas was 3-of-10 over that same span.
Prior to that Maryland run-out, the lead changed hands seven times in the first four minutes of the half.
There was consolation at the break that Maryland was in the thick of the game despite Thomas' offensive troubles. "To have different players step up with big plays in the first half…I don't remember the last time I've seen Alyssa with zero points and we were tied at halftime," said Frese. "(We) put ourselves into a great position with our team."
Thomas shrugged off the scoreless half. "I was struggling to score and some of my teammates had the hot hand so why not keep going to them? I just had to be patient and wait for my opportunity."
The two battling teams went to the half tied 31-31, when Brown scored a lay-up off a set piece with five seconds left. That play culminated a 9-2 Terrapin rally in the final 1:23. Trailing 28-22, their biggest deficit, the Terps got a 3-point play inside from Howard and then a steal and lay-up from Brene Moseley.
Walker-Kimbrough scored on a set play at 46 seconds to put Maryland ahead 29-28, but Empress Davenport drained a baseline three to put the Longhorns back on top before Brown's score.
The game was so even that the Terps and Horns each had 21 rebounds and eight turnovers. Defense ruled most of the half, Maryland shooting just 41.2 percent despite eight offensive rebounds and Texas only connecting on 33.3 percent. The big Longhorns had a big edge at the line, hitting 10-of-12, to Maryland's 1-for-4 free throws.
The Terrapins had a six-point lead of their own at 4:57 when Howard scored off a beautiful entry from Mincy to make it 22-16. The Terrapins had held Texas scoreless over a span of five minutes and seven seconds to open a working margin.
Texas returned the favor, clamping down on Maryland for three minutes and 34 seconds until the final first half flurry. The Longhorns were particularly adept at stymieing Thomas who was 0-of-5 from the field, 0-of-2 at the line and scoreless, though she had three assists. Davenport and Brady Sanders did most of the work on the Maryland All-American but it took a toll.
Sanders was 1-of-10 from the field. Only Fussell with 13 points joined Henderson in double figures. Texas finished the game shooting just 36.2 percent (21-of-58). Maryland shot 46 percent in the second half and finished at 43.1 percent as Thomas heated up.
"Sequoia (Austin) and Chloe (Pavlech) gave me confidence," Thomas said of two teammates. "They said, ‘We're not worried. You haven't scored yet.' They just told me to get to the basket and that's when things started opening up for me."
Thomas didn't press, though, deferring to teammates and biding her time. She turned a couple of defensive boards into one-woman fastbreak baskets early in the second half and that seemed to get her going.
Mincy came of the bench for the second straight game to give Maryland a lift, even scoring eight of the Terrapins' first 10 points, though she wouldn't score again in the first half after the 12:37 mark. Walker-Kimbrough also chipped in eight points, hitting 4-of-6 shots but Maryland had just a 29-28 edge in bench scoring, reflective of how close the contest was throughout.
The Terrapins were much more aggressive in the second half, getting to the line 18 times and finishing 17-of-22 at the stripe. Texas was 14-of-17, but just 4-of-5 in the final 20 minutes.
"That was a great game," said Frese. "Neither team deserved to lose that game."
Thomas, Terps Take Down Texas
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