No. 13 Maryland women end Big Ten skid at three, earn No. 2 seed, with 77-75 win over Nebraska

The Washington Post

Ieshia Small ended her final regular-season home game with the Maryland women’s basketball team by launching the ball straight into the air, her arms flung out into a narrow “V” for just a split-second afterward. It looked like both a celebration and a release.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon that had started with both Small and her lone senior teammate Kristen Confroy wiping tears from their eyes with their families gathered around them for senior day, the No. 13 Terps beat a feisty Nebraska team, 77-75, at Xfinity Center to secure the No. 2 seed in this week’s Big Ten tournament and end the first three-game losing streak they’d had since joining the conference.

“I was soaking it all in,” Small said of her ball toss. “There were just like two seconds left and I just threw the ball up. Just happy we got the win.”

It was an emotional victory for Maryland (23-6, 12-4 Big Ten) beyond the fact that it was senior day.

This season has been the first since the Terps joined the Big Ten in 2014 that they faced any meaningful adversity in conference play. After owning the regular-season league title for three seasons — in addition to winning the conference tournament — they were upset by four teams, a shift that represents both the Big Ten’s resurgence this season as well as Maryland’s young, short-handed roster. (Coach Brenda Frese generally uses a seven-woman rotation, having started with a small group this year even before the team lost wing Blair Watson to injury in January.)

On Sunday, the Terps avoided what would have been their first four-game losing streak since the 2002-03 season.

“What I’m proud of is they continued to stay the course,” Frese said. “We knew how difficult the stretch was going to be with five of the last seven games being on the road and against the top half of the league, so they see and they know: Keep putting your head down, and if the ball isn’t going in, there’s a lot of ways for us to be successful as a team. They know it, they understand it, they own it, and we’re excited about going into Big Ten tournament play.”

Sunday felt like a big game at Xfinity Center. It was Maryland’s only weekend conference game at home all season, and an announced crowd of 10,239 came to watch. Current WNBA players Marissa Coleman and Crystal Langhorne, two members of Frese’s 2006 national championship-winning team, cheered from the stands.

Maryland held a tenuous lead for most of the game but never seemed to have total control, and after Nebraska (20-9, 11-5) went on an 11-2 run early in the fourth quarter, a 3-pointer from Nebraska guard Hannah Whitish put the Cornhuskers up 75-74 with 49 seconds left.

Then, with 28 seconds to play, sophomore forward Stephanie Jones (Aberdeen) was fouled going up for an offensive rebound. She hit both free throws to put Maryland up one, then came up with a two-handed block under the basket on the other end and secured the defensive board. Sophomore Kaila Charles hit one final free throw on the Terps’ next offensive possession and Whitish, who made four 3-pointers, missed her final attempt from deep with three seconds remaining to seal Maryland’s win.

“Steph’s defense was huge,” Frese said. “When you talk about those late-game sets, she helps be that glue on the back line. But I just thought collectively we continued to have each other’s back this game.”

Charles led four scorers in double figures with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Jones added 11 rebounds as well. The Terps dominated the boards, outrebounding Nebraska 47-33, and had 21 second-chance points to show for it, but had their problem areas as well. They committed 13 turnovers and shot 15-for-23 from the free- throw line — both of which helped the Cornhuskers keep their confidence late.

Whitish led with 14 points for Nebraska, which finished with 11 three-pointers.

Next, Maryland heads to Indianapolis for the conference tournament. As the No. 2 seed, the Terps receive a double-bye and play their first game at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Ohio State (24-6, 13-3) locked up the No. 1 seed with a win over Penn State Sunday, and Nebraska took the No. 3 seed.

Both Confroy and Small are especially looking forward to the tournament, for the chance to extend their college careers. Both called the team a family Sunday, and reminded that their time playing for the Terps is far from over.

“I don’t look at them as friends anymore, my teammates; they’re like sisters,” Small said. “Just the whole process of being here has been amazing, and once again, it’s not over. We still got a lot to go.”

Maryland 22, 22, 20, 13 —77

NEBARAKA (20-9): Simon 4-11 2-2 10, Cain 3-4 1-2 7, Cincore 1-6 1-2 3, Eliely 5-8 0-0 11, Whitish 5-15 0-0 14, Blackburn 4-5 0-0 8, Mitchell 0-1 0-0 0, Kissinger 1-3 0-0 3, Morton 4-11 2-2 13, Wood 2-3 0-0 6, Totals 29-67 6-8 75.

MARYLAND (23-6): Jones 2-7 3-4 7, Charles 6-16 6-8 19, Christinaki 4-14 3-3 13, Confroy 2-4 0-0 6, Lewis 4-7 0-0 10, Fraser 5-7 2-4 12, Myers 2-3 0-0 5, Small 2-6 1-4 5, Totals 27-64 15-23 77.

3-point goals: Nebraska 11-29 (Simon 0-2, Cincore 0-1, Eliely 1-4, Whitish 4-9, Kissinger 1-2, Morton 3-8, Wood 2-3), Maryland 8-17 (Charles 1-1, Christinaki 2-8, Confroy 2-3, Lewis 2-3, Myers 1-2). Assists: Nebraska 17 (Cincore 4), Maryland 10 (Small 3). Rebounds: Nebraska 33 (Simon 6), Maryland 47 (Jones 11). Total fouls: Nebraska 18, Maryland 11. A: 10,239.

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