COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- As home-court farewells go, Laurin Mincy’s probably matches up with anyone’s in the country. The senior guard had 27 points, including 16 in the second half as the top-seeded Terrapins pulled away for an 85-70 win over previously-unbeaten Princeton Monday Night at Xfinity Center. The victory moved Maryland (32-2) on to the Sweet Sixteen for the seventh time under coach Brenda Frese, and pushed Maryland’s streak to 26 straight wins, the longest in school history.
Former ACC nemesis Duke will be waiting in Spokane for a Saturday showdown in the Sweet Sixteen. The Terrapins are gunning for a second straight Final Four appearance, and have now won eight straight home games at Xfinity in the postseason.
The Terps were also undefeated at home (18-0) this season, sending Mincy, the team’s lone senior, off in style.
“She’s a big-time player, she was coming out of high school and she has proven that time and time again,” said Frese of her fifth-year senior. “She plays her best basketball come March when the stakes are highest, and she wants that moment. Only fitting the night she had for us.”
And the Terrapins needed every bit of Mincy’s marvelous effort against Princeton (31-1), a team tragically under-seeded in the field, and one that pushed Maryland until the Terrapins stepped on the gas out of the locker room to start the second half. Maryland had a 20-4 run in just over seven minutes, and turned an instant classic into a runaway thanks to Mincy, fellow guard Lexie Brown (23 points) and three other Terps in double figures.
“It was a special night, being my last game here in Xfinity, playing an undefeated team,” said Mincy, who hit 6-of-7 shots from 3-point range. “It was very emotional but I’m glad my team came out and played hard for me and that I was able to give them a great game.”
Princeton had Maryland locked in a dogfight in a back-and-forth first half that saw the Tigers shoot 17-of-29 from the field as the Terrapins strained to take away the 3-point line, Princeton’s bread-and-butter. Meanwhile, the Tigers forced Maryland to the perimeter, exactly what Princeton wanted, though the Terrapins foiled the plan with 12-of-20 shooting (60 percent) behind the arc. The 12 threes and the gaudy percentage were both season-highs.
“They were playing the ball-screens, going under and kind of keying on Bri(onna) Jones,” said Brown, who hit 5 of 11 from deep. “They were sucking in so we went over in practice yesterday taking shots over ball-screens. Coach B said this was a game the guards could really get into a flow.”
Mincy was 9-of-11shooting overall; Brown 8-of-16; and the Terrapins got a huge first-half lift from inside-outside threat Tierney Pfirman who came off the bench to hit her first five shots and finish with 11 points and seven rebounds.
“They were sagging super low on our post players and when ‘T’ came in she can really extend the defense because she can shoot that mid-range so well,” said Mincy. “When she hit her first shot I knew she was going to get another shot on her next possession because she’s the kind of player when she’s in a rhythm she can’t be stopped.”
Mincy said the win was also satisfying for all the attention Princeton had received coming to College Park. “Playing an undefeated team, a team (President) Obama had picked over us gave us a little added motivation,” she added. “We wanted to make a statement.”
“The game had a little more drama it was learned afterward, a death threat on Princeton reserve Leslie Robinson, the President’s niece, was revealed publicly but the contest was played without incident. The Maryland athletic department had received an 8-minute voicemail that indicated a man was driving on campus with a handgun. The caller linked the man to Robinson.
Only Princeton coach Courtney Banghart knew of the threat, and there was already extra security on hand as Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan attended the game.
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 10 points for Maryland, all in the first half, including four big points at the end of the half when the game was tight. Jones had 10 points and 10 rebounds, her second straight double-double in the NCAA Tournament, but she didn’t even have a shot in the first half as Princeton focused on limiting her and Malina Howard.
The Terrapins roared out of the locker room to start the second half. They hit six of their first seven shots and while Banghart desperately waited for the first television timeout, the Tigers saw Maryland roll off a killer 15-2 spree as the Xfinity crowd of 7,794 grew louder.
Mincy had seven points in the run and Jones finally got on track with her first points of the game – two free throws at the 18-minute mark. She added a layup next time down and Maryland’s four-point halftime lead had ballooned to 57-40 at 15:02, Banghart finally taking a timeout, but too late.
“I really felt like in that stretch that we just wore them out,” said Frese. “I could kind of see it late toward the end of the first half. That was the big thing, we wanted to keep pushing make or miss in terms of wearing them out. I thought the physicality, the speed getting up and down was the difference in being able to extend that lead.”
Howard got her first points at 13:47, to make it 59-40, before Alex Wheatley scored inside for Princeton at 13:23, just the Tigers’ second basket of the half. Princeton missed seven of the first eight shots in the second half in digging a hole that reached 20 points at 62-42 when Brown drained a three at 12:34.
After a Brown 3-pointer, Blake Dietrick hit a big three, and then got a layup off a Terp turnover. Frese called timeout but Dietrick did it again to make it 62-49 at 11:52. Jones hit two free throws but Dietrick scored on a drive, and it was still a 13-point game.
Mincy hit a 3-pointer at 10:03, and Brown added another one about a minute later. When Jones scored inside, the Terrapins were back ahead 72-51 at 8:31.
Maryland, which couldn’t stop anyone off the drive in the first half, clamped down again, holding Princeton scoreless for nearly four minutes. Mincy drained another three and it was 75-51 at 7:28, the biggest lead of the game.
“We wanted our play to do the talking and just kind of be who we are,” said Frese of all the hoopla surround the undefeated Ivy entrant. “I love how this team takes a business-like approach. We wanted to show how our conference had prepared us to play an undefeated team.”
The game Tigers, though, scored the next 10 points, including a 3-pointer from Dietrick at 4:42, to make it 75-61.
Mincy – who else? – ended the run with a 3-pointer at 4:28. Dietrick wasn’t done, on here way to 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, but the Tigers had run out of steam. They closed to within 12 points a couple of times in the final 91 seconds but Brown, trying to run down the clock, finally launched an excuse-me-three that went down at 45 seconds to put the final points on the board, and bring the crowd to it’s feet, cheering the Terrapins on to Spokane and a familiar foe.
“I think we both know each other and I’m excited to have them on a neutral court,” said Frese, somewhat coy, about seeing 4th-seed Duke in the bracket. “I think it will be fun. It’s a team we know really well and they know us really well.”
As for polishing off Princeton, Maryland hit 7-of-8 3-pointers in the second half, and shot 55.6 percent overall in taking command. Defensively, the Terrapins got the Tigers by the tail, holding them to 35.3 percent (12-of-34) shooting in the final stanza.
“We talked about it all week – we don’t want to be done,” said Mincy.
Maryland led 42-38 at the half, both teams putting on an offensive clinic. Princeton shot 58.6 percent from the field and got 28 points in the paint against a Maryland defense that didn’t have an answer for the dribble drive from every position. The Terrapins, meanwhile, shot 51 percent and got a huge lift from Pfirman off the bench, who hit all five of her shots on her way to 11 points.
Her 3-pointer, her first of the season, at 4:22 put Maryland back in front (31-30) after the Terrapins had trailed for over three minutes. “I was just feeling it,” said Pfirman. “My teammates gave me confidence in every shot. No one was open and I was open so I just shot it and it went in.”
Brown, on here way to 11 first half points, hit a 3-pointer at 3:10 to make it 36-32, but the Terps couldn’t shake the Tigers in a first half that saw 13 lead changes and a tie.
Walker-Kimbrough came on really strong in the final minute. She had a steal and a layup at 52 seconds and then hit a 17-footer at 5.4, to give Maryland the four-point bulge at the break. Maryland had a 14-0 edge in points off turnovers.
That number was key for the Terrapins who got zero points and no shots from Jones and Howard in the fast-paced first half. Princeton outrebounded Maryland 15-12 in the opening 20 minutes but Maryland ultimately prevailed 35-29 on the boards, dominating the second half.
The Tigers had built a four-point first half lead on the strength of a three-point play from Dietrick, going up 28-24 at 5:58.
After missing their first three shots, the Terrapins had settled in, knocking down seven of their next eight attempts in a foreshadowing of a night they would hit 53.4 percent (31-of-58). Mincy did a lot of the damage with two early 3-pointers. When Walker-Kimbrough hit a jumper at 13:53, Maryland led 14-8, the end of a 7-0 run.
The Terrapins had the pace to their liking but a sagging Princeton man-to-man kept Maryland from establishing an inside game. The Terrapins build that six-point edge on the perimeter and in transition, but when Maryland cooled a bit, Princeton charged right back with seven straight points.
Vanessa Smith, who had 15 points, canned the first three of the game for the Tigers at 11:30, Princeton led 17-16, and the seesaw first half was truly underway.
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