GREENSBORO, N.C. — The eighth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team's final appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament lasted but one game, with the Terps unable to overcome an unsightly first half that included turnovers and missed shots en masse, forcing them to chase futilely the rest of the way in a 73-70 loss to North Carolina on Friday night in the quarterfinals at Greensboro Coliseum.
The third-seeded Terps, who are headed to the Big Ten next season, absorbed their earliest exit from the ACC tournament since 2010-11, when they lost in the quarterfinals as well. Trailing for all but several seconds in front of an announced 6,949, Maryland (24-6) also had a four-game winning streak broken and lost for just the second time in 10 games.
"I thought obviously Carolina having a game under their belt, I thought they just came in really aggressive," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, whose team received a double bye. "We needed to get comfortable. Obviously new players when you have two freshmen in the [starting] lineup. I saw a lot of nerves from them, so we had to settle them down."
Senior forward Alyssa Thomas had game highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds two days after being named ACC Player of the Year for the third straight time, joining Duke's Alana Beard as the only two to accomplish the feat. Thomas made a jumper to pull the Terps to 71-70 with 1:35 to play, but she lost control of the ball on an ensuing possession, and North Carolina took over on a jump-ball ruling.
Brittany Rountree made two foul shots for No. 6 seed North Carolina (24-8), which lost to the Terps in the regular season, 79-70, for the final margin before Thomas missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Maryland's disappointing conclusion to its 37-year women's basketball run in the ACC did include Thomas becoming the program's all-time scoring leader. The national Player of the Year candidate and two-time All-American passed Crystal Langhorne to move into first place with 11:19 left, pulling up for a jumper from the foul line on a fast break that cut the deficit to 52-45.
"It's just a huge honor, but we didn't come away with a win today, so it's something I'm not really thinking about," said Thomas, who had her historic evening marred with a game-high eight turnovers.
The Terps put an error-filled first half behind them with a 10-2 flurry after the break. Diamond DeShields (team-high 22 points) answered for North Carolina before Maryland ran off six straight, culminating with Lexie Brown's driving layup after the freshman point guard beat her defender with a nifty first step to draw Maryland within 39-36 with 16:12 left in regulation.
The 13th-ranked Tar Heels pushed back with a 13-2 run that began when Allisha Gray (17 points, 10 rebounds) swished a 3-pointer. The freshman guard soon after collected a rebound and scored, and after field goals from DeShields and Xylina McDaniel, North Carolina had its largest lead, 52-38, with 12:37 to play.
But the Terps began to inch back over the final five minutes, starting when senior center Alicia DeVaughn scored inside off an assist from Brown. By the time Brown added a jumper and driving layup, Maryland was within 71-68 with 2:21 to go.
Maryland opened the game trying to shake off sluggishness from five days since its final regular-season game. The Terps did not score their first field goal until more than five minutes had elapsed in the first half, with Thomas' fast-break layup ending the drought. From there Maryland used a 9-2 burst to take its only lead when Brown scored while drawing contact.
"I'm proud of the fact that we fought all the way to the buzzer," Frese said. "This game obviously I thought was impacted in the first half in terms of how Carolina came at us really aggressive. We were back on our heels, and you spot a great team like Carolina 11 points, you're fighting the entire second half to be able to come back."