The sixth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team survived a cardiac finish in the ACC tournament final on Sunday, getting the go-ahead basket from Anjale Barrett and a pair of pressure free throws from Alyssa Thomas down the stretch to fend off No. 15 Georgia Tech, 68-65, and become the first to claim 10 conference championships.
Named ACC player of the year on Thursday and tournament MVP three days later, Thomas scored 16 of her career-high 29 points in the second half, including both ends of one-and-one foul shots with 23 seconds to play that kept third-seeded Maryland in front by four.
Moments earlier, Barrett put the Terrapins (28-4) ahead to stay with a driving layup with 1 minute 8 seconds to play after senior center Lynetta Kizer tied it at 63 in front of 9,122 at Greensboro Coliseum.
The senior class of Kizer, Barrett and guard-forward Kim Rodgers combined for 13 of Maryland's final 17 points and capped its ACC career with a second title. The Terrapins also won the conference tournament in 2009.
"I knew our seniors were going to play a big part," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who won her second ACC tournament title in 10 seasons at Maryland. "That's what seniors are supposed to do. They're supposed to carry your team and show their leadership, and all three of them played really big today."
Kizer had 11 points and six rebounds, and Rodgers collected 10 points on 2-for-2 shooting, both from three-point range, and 4 of 4 from the foul line. Barrett added eight points with six assists and five rebounds.
Maryland won its seventh consecutive game and for the ninth time in 10 games. It beat No. 4 seed Georgia Tech (24-8) for the third time this season and swept its second ACC opponent in three days. The Terrapins beat Virginia on Friday for a third straight time this season to advance to the tournament semifinals.
The Terrapins entered the game second in the nation in rebounding margin (+14.5) but finished with just two more than Georgia Tech and shot 44 percent to 45 percent for the Yellow Jackets. Maryland, though, countered with heightened attention to ball security and foul shooting.
In the first two rounds of the tournament, Maryland combined for 46 turnovers and shot 68 percent from the line. On Sunday, it made 17 of 22 free throws (77 percent) and committed 12 turnovers, two short of matching its fewest in a game this season. The Terrapins had been averaging close to 17 turnovers per game.
Thomas was particularly efficient on both fronts, going 5 of 5 on foul shots with one turnover. The second sophomore to be named ACC player of the year shot 12 for 22 and added four rebounds, one block and one steal. Thomas fell two points short of tying the ACC record for points in a tournament final and had the most points in a title game since Monique Currie scored 30 for Duke in 2002.
"We've been talking about this all season, and we've been putting in the hard work," said Thomas, who finished as the ACC's scoring leader during the regular season. "And we made a promise to our seniors that we were going to send them out with a ring and a championship, and to get that for them was a special moment for us."
Thomas scored 13 of Maryland's opening 17 points and sank consecutive jumpers during a 7-2 run that put the Terrapins ahead, 49-47, with 9:12 left in regulation. The Yellow Jackets stayed within reach over the next six minutes before moving in front, 62-61, with 2:32 to play on sophomore Tyaunna Marshall's jumper. That would be the final field goal of the game for Georgia Tech.
Marshall, who had a team-high 25 points, then made 1 of 2 free throws for a 63-61 lead to set up the frantic final minutes in which Kizer hit a jumper with 1:42 to play and Barrett converted Chelsea Regins's turnover into the decisive points.
"I think I was overcome with joy and excitement," said Rodgers, whose two three-pointers 25 seconds apart gave Maryland a 57-52 lead with 7:23 to play. "To be able to win our freshman year and come back and to finish our senior year with a win in the last conference game is amazing. There is only one team when we walk out of here that can say they were conference champions, and for it to be us is really nice."