For the first time this season, the sixth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team was not able to relax and empty its bench late in the second half. The Terrapins instead were facing potentially their first loss Wednesday night after pesky Michigan got within a point in the final six minutes of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Making matters worse was having leading scorer Alyssa Thomas on the bench nursing a cramp down the stretch, but Maryland never wilted, getting a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Laurin Mincy to trigger a decisive run of nine consecutive points on the way to a 74-65 victory before an announced 4,013 at Comcast Center.
The Terrapins won their eighth in a row to start the season, but their first by fewer than 11. Maryland came into the game with an average margin of victory of 25, including three by at least 31, but survived to deal the Wolverines their first loss.
"Just a tremendous win," coach Brenda Frese said. "What I liked about this game is from start to finish we had to work, and I thought we learned a lot about ourselves. It was a game that we had to compete and go after for 40 minutes, and I thought even at times when we were struggling with our shot, with our defense, we gave just tremendous effort and intensity."
Thomas finished with a game-high 24 points — two short of matching her career high — nine rebounds and three assists. Junior forward Tianna Hawkins' 10 points and game-high 16 rebounds anchored a front line that enabled Maryland to outrebound its opponent 51-28 and own a 38-24 advantage in inside points.
The Terrapins' supremacy underneath also triggered multiple fast breaks that they turned into 18 points. Michigan (7-1), meantime, didn't score any points in transition but remained competitive thanks to shooting 9-for-21 from 3-point range, including 6-for-10 in the first half.
After a 3-pointer by Mincy and a three-point play by senior center Lynetta Kizer, it was a fast break with just under four minutes to play in which Thomas pulled up in pain as senior point guard Anjalé Barrett was driving into the lane. Thomas collapsed in front of the Maryland bench holding her left calf as Barrett got fouled on a jumper, and the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year lay on the court while trainers attended to her.
Thomas walked to the bench and then to the locker room, but back on the court, Barrett made both free throws for a 68-59 lead with 3:52 to play. Michigan junior forward-center Rachel Sheffer made a pair of foul shots to cut it to seven, and Maryland called timeout with 2:56 left in regulation.
Out of the stoppage, Hawkins converted a layup off a feed from Mincy, and after the Wolverines missed a 3-pointer, Hawkins scored again, this time collecting a pass from Barrett. Thomas, who had 19 first-half points, then re-entered with 1:38 remaining to help Maryland close out its fifth home victory this season.
"I would say they tightened it up," Thomas said of Michigan's second-half defense. "That just gave opportunities to my other teammates to score and get their points."
The Terrapins had multiple opportunities to build comfortable leads in the first half, but each time a turnover, missed shot, improbable Michigan basket or a combination thereof thwarted them. An 8-2 run, for instance, led to a 18-9 margin before junior forward Nya Jordan banked in a 3-pointer; after Maryland had scored five straight points minutes later, the Wolverines got a fall-away 3-pointer from freshman guard Nicole Elmblad.
Senior guard-forward Carmen Reynolds' 3-pointer drew Michigan to 27-25, but Maryland bumped its lead to six after a timeout with 6:09 to play in which Frese admonished her players while stamping her foot on the court. The Wolverines answered again, though, with another 3-pointer, this from senior guard Courtney Boylan.
Thomas made the first 3-pointer of her career to make it 36-30, but Michigan closed the first half with six consecutive points and had a chance to lead with a shot in the closing seconds. Kate Thompson's 3-pointer, however, was off the mark.
"I know we've been working really hard, and we've been waiting for somebody to challenge us," Thomas said. "To get that opportunity on our home court, we were real excited about that."