Fifth-seeded Michigan State entered the second round of the NCAA tournament with a reputation for rugged defense. The Spartans had held 29 of their previous 33 opponents below their scoring average.
But that was before they encountered fourth-seeded Maryland and junior Alyssa Thomas on Monday night.
Thomas burned the Spartans for 28 points in a 74-49 Terps victory that sent them to the Sweet Sixteen.
Maryland (26-7) will face top-seeded Connecticut in the regional semifinals on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn.
Connecticut defeated Maryland, 63-48, on Dec. 3.
“We have to be better,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “There's a lot of things we have to do against the numerous All-Americans they have on their roster.”
On Monday night, Thomas converted her first five shots from the field, immediately staking Maryland to an early lead.
By the time she missed her first shot, the Terps led 19-11 and there was only a little more than 10 minutes left before halftime. Thomas shot 12-for-18 from the floor.
“Alyssa Thomas really was impossible for us to get stopped at any point,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “The game was over in the first half when she just took control.”
Thomas, who had made only 25.6 percent of her 3-pointers this season (11 of 43) before Monday, was 2-for-2 from behind the arc.
She smiled and sounded almost apologetic when asked about it afterward.
“Everything was going in for me, so I just started shooting 3s,” Thomas said. “It's tournament time, and you don't want to go home.”
Michigan State's leading scorer, Klarissa Bell, was held scoreless on just two attempts from the field.
“I felt like she was intimidated tonight by Alyssa Thomas guarding her,” Merchant said. “I really just feel bad for our group, our seniors. It just seemed like we were kind of whipped.”
The Spartans were held to two free throws, converting both. Maryland was 11 for 15 from the line.
“We're thrilled to be moving on,” Frese said. “From start to finish, probably one of our best games we've played all season long.”
The Spartans (25-9) briefly cut the deficit to single digits at 36-27 early in the second half.
Moments later, a 3-pointer and a layup by Thomas pushed the lead back to 46-30.
Thomas then converted another 3-pointer to extend the margin to 55-34. She ran back on defense with a smile on her face.
Thomas has not scored fewer than 26 points in her last four games. Her career high of 32 came against Wake Forest on March 8 in the ACC tournament.
Many of the Comcast Center fans stood and applauded when she exited with 4:08 left and Maryland ahead by 27 points.
The Spartans — who have lost four players to injuries — seemed to get worn down by the Terps in the second half.
Like Michigan State, the Terps have had to overcome key injuries. Maryland lost three players — including both anticipated backcourt starters — in the first six weeks of the season.
Frese had said the Terps and Spartans were “mirror images” because of their shared adversity.
But Michigan State had no match for Thomas on Monday night.