COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Brionna Jones left the game with 5:51 to play, her teammates on the bench each standing to greet her and exchange high fives.
It’s the closest the 6-3 sophomore came to getting stopped all afternoon.
Behind Jones’ 22 points and 12 rebounds, No. 1 seed Maryland outlasted 16th-seed New Mexico 75-57 in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Xfinity Center Saturday afternoon. The Terrapins will take on undefeated Princeton, the Spokane Regional’s 8th seed, Monday night here in a marquee second round matchup.
The Terrapins (31-2) did there part with a sometimes sloppy – 20 turnovers, 46.4 percent shooting allowed in the first half – win over Western Athletic Conference champion New Mexico State, a game if seriously over-matched opponent. Simply, the smaller Aggies couldn’t keep up with Jones.
“It was like PT boats bouncing off a battleship,” said New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh.
Jones, bigger and often quicker than the centers and forward ganging up to stop her, hit 7-of-10 shots, 8-of-9 at the line, personally put State in foul trouble and finished two points shy of her career scoring high. Her performance easily eclipsed her previous NCAA scoring high of 16 points last year against Notre Dame, and she impacted , often literally, the game all day,.
“Jones was a load, she’s a great player, she’s got a great touch around the basket,” said Trakh. “(Our players) were trying to get around her but it took three seconds to get from one side of her to the other, and she’s so fundamentally sound and well-coached that she knows how to seal, she knows how to use her body and she knows how to finish around the basket.”
“Early on after I saw that I could seal the zone pretty well and (teammates) were getting me the ball, I knew I was going to have that kind of game today,” said Jones, who scored 11 of Maryland’s first 15 points.
It wasn’t until Terrapin coach went to a smaller lineup, essentially four guards, though, that Maryland began to pull away midway through the first half. Frese thought the Terrapins, who hadn’t played since the Big Ten title game March 8, had to “shake off some rust. Give State’s pesky match-up zone and a little three-quarter court pressure that kept them off balance some credit, too.
At least until senior Laurin Mincy got going, adding the outside to the inside-outside attack the Terrapins prefer. Mincy had 19 points, 13 in the second half.
“Bri established herself early inside so in the second half they were doubling her so she was able to get us open shots and we were able to knock them down,” said Mincy, who hit 6-of-9 shots from the field. “We have been working on ball reversals, getting the ball inside, so that was the game-plan.”
Maryland shot 49.1 percent (26-of-53) but the eye-popping statistic was the Terrapins’ 45-20 rebounding edge. Besides Jones’ big day, Malina Howard, Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough each had five boards.
The Terrapins will have a tougher time Monday against Princeton (31-0), an 80-70 winner against No. 9 seed Green Bay in Saturday’s first game. The Tigers outrebounded Green Bay 49-22, and remain a women’s basketball hot topic with that undefeated record.
“You can’t have 20 turnovers against Princeton,” said Frese, looking ahead. “You’ve got to be able to value possessions. They’re a team that has great leadership, a really high IQ. They pass extremely well, they can really score it and they can match us size-wise so it should be a great matchup.”
Maryland, meanwhile, won its 25th straight game, a school record that eclipses the mark set around the 2006 national championship, before and after. The Terrapins have also now won seven straight NCAA Tournament games in Xfinity Center, part of a 13-2 record in such games. There were 7,948 fans on hand to see them Saturday, a key part of that success, said Frese
“I thought we had anxiety today, and sometimes when you want something so badly, it’s not going to work for you,” she said. “Glad we were able to get this first game and what a phenomenal crowd when you talk about our Sixth Man. I think settling in, we’ll be ready for Monday.”
A 16-4 Maryland blitz midway through the second half pretty much decided matters against New Mexico State. As has often been the case this season, a lot of Terps had a hand in the spree. Jones, having that fabulous game, hit two free throws to push the lead to 15, and then Kiara Leslie got a weakside stickback before Sasha Weber hit two free throws for the Aggies to make it 55-40 at 13:04.
Mincy hit a three, Maryland finally solving New Mexico State’s 2-3 matchup zone from inside and out, then the senior added two free throws next time down, and it was 60-40.
Shanice Davis scored inside for State but Maryland ran off the next seven points. Brene Mosely )six points, four assists) snuck inside for an unlikely stickback, Walker-Kimbrough (10 points) added another three, and Kristen Confroy (five points, four rebounds, three assists) hit two free throws to push the lead to 67-42 with 9:43 to play.
The Aggies never got closer than 18 the rest of the way and that was in the final minute. WAC Player of the Year Brianna Freeman led the Aggies with 15 points, and Weber chipped in 14.
“They were doubling and I think in the second half we did a good job of kicking it out and sharing the ball,” said Jones of Maryland pulling away. Her solid play kept the Terrapins with a working margin most of the game, and no Terp had to play more than 29 minutes (Mincy).
The Terrapins and Aggies picked up where they left off at the end of a seesaw final few minutes of the first half. Jones was still having her way inside but New Mexico State’s pressure and their ability to get inside and score, kept them in the game, those factors and more Maryland turnovers, five in the first five minutes.
Still, when Mincy hit a long 3-pointer at 15:40, the Terps were up 51-38.
Confroy, who had excelled in recent practices, and gave Frese a gut feeling she should play more (26 minutes, the second most for her this season), summed it all up. “This was my first run at an NCAA tournament and there’s a lot going on. I was trying to channel all the energy into playing hard and making the right decisions. I think eventually we were able to kind of pick them apart and figure out what we were supposed to do offensively.”
Brown had five points to go with those five rebounds and five assists but she also had six turnovers, emblematic of the Terrapins’ uneven performance.
“I think a lot of that was the anxiousness, maybe sometimes making a play a little harder than what it should have been but credit (New Mexico State’s) athleticism,” said Frese of the glut of turnovers by all the Terps.
The Terrapins led 42-32 at the half but had that creeping feeling the lead could have been bigger. Weber, on her way to nine first half points, hit two 3-pointers in the last two minutes, and the Terrapins got the whoopsies with nine first half turnovers.
Maryland shot 53 percent from the field and had a commanding 21-8 edge on the boards but those turnovers and some baskets in transition kept the Aggies in the hunt. They even had a couple of chances to pull closer.
And all that despite an amazing 16 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and eight rebounds from Jones, who just overwhelmed New Mexico State right in the middle of a 2-3 zone that should have slowed her more. Instead, the Aggies picked up eight fouls and watched Jones torch them.
The Terrapins led by 14 at 37-23 when Mincy got a stickback at 3:20, one of seven offensive rebounds for Maryland and part of a 10-2 edge in second chance points.
But Freeman got a three-point play over Jones to cut the lead to 11, and then Weber heated up like her namesake grill.
Confroy got a bucket on the break from Moseley and converted a three-point play but Weber hit another three to put the final points on the halftime scoreboard.
“I thought Brene, Kristen, Kiara, when were able to go the four guards, was big. I thought it was the difference in the game in terms of being able to be active and move the ball,” said Frese. “Nice that we have that luxury to go to different lineups that we see that work during the game.”
Maryland had led 9-8 when the Terps went on a 13-4 spree. Jones scored inside from Brown, then Walker-Kimbrough hit a shot over the zone. Freeman scored inside for NM State, but Jones answered, and then Moseley, just off the bench, made an amazing drive for a three-point play to make it 20-12 at 9:44.
Brown got a steal and layup to make it a 10-point lead, but then Maryland committed three consecutive turnovers. The Aggies capitalized with four straight points. Mincy ended the run with a layup on the break from Moseley, and then Walker-Kimbrough got Maryland’s first 3-pointer at 7:23 to make it 27-16 and force a State timeout.
The Terps were up 30-18 when Jones got a three-point play down low at 6:47.
Early on, the Aggies used a 2-3 zone to slow Maryland down but they didn’t have an answer for Jones, who scored seven of the Terrapins’ first nine points and drew three fouls on New Mexico State in the first 4:23, as Maryland opened a 9-6 lead.
New Mexico State Can't Keep Up With Jones
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