With the crowd on their feet screaming “defense,” freshman forward Shakira Austin used her long arms to deflect the Minnesota (18-8, 8-8 B1G) inbounds pass with 6.6 seconds remaining. Off of the deflection, junior guard Kaila Charles grabbed the ball and sprinted up the floor finishing with the nifty lefty layup as the buzzer sounded, completing the Maryland (23-3, 13-3, B1G) 71-69 comeback win. Immediately after the game winner, Charles was met by her joyous teammates and brought the Xfinity Center to pandemonium.
“Just a really incredible special win for us, just love the way that we had to fight, claw and scratch,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I think it speaks volumes to the character and competitiveness that we have in this locker room.”
Charles scored a game-high 29 points, including 21 in the second half bouncing back after a tough two point performance against Iowa on Sunday.
“Coach was talking about being more aggressive and getting to the rim, so I was just trying to attack and get layups,” Charles said.
Minnesota led for pretty much the entire game, however, the Terps proved to be resilient, outscoring Minnesota 35-24 in the second half. Defensive intensity and pressure proved to be pivotal for Maryland in the second half, forcing the Golden Gophers into nine turnovers including seven in the fourth quarter.
“I thought some of our adjustments in the second half in terms of trust were huge,” Frese said. “Specifically when you talk about the triangle in two that slowed them down a little bit.”
With 3:04 remaining in the first quarter, senior Brianna Fraser landed on the foot of forward Taiye Bello rolling her left ankle and would not return to the game. Knowing one of Maryland’s best rim protectors was not in the game, the Golden Gophers capitalized attacking the basket and then kicking out to open shooters when the Terps defense did not rotate fast enough. The Golden Gophers potent backcourt duo of sophomore Destiny Pitts and redshirt senior Tenisha Bell combined for 34 first half points.
“I thought Minnesota came in and punched early and often,” Frese said.
After battling back to cut the deficit to four with 4:00 remaining in the first half, Minnesota put together a 8-0 run in 25 seconds to take its first double-digit lead of the first half 40-28. Maryland would not cut the deficit to single digits until the final buzzer sounded in the first half as freshman guard Taylor Mikesell knocked down a contested three from several feet behind the arc, one of her five threes on the day.
Minnesota continued to cling to its double-digit lead in the third quarter, with 3:26 remaining Irene Garrido Perez knocked down a three to increase its lead to 57-42. However, Maryland would continue to fight, trimming the Golden Gopher lead to 11 at the end of third quarter.
“I thought collectively this team has really grown up, you could just see the confidence that the players had just chipping away at it slowly one possession at a time,” Frese said.
Less than a minute apart in the fourth quarter, Mikesell knocked down consecutive three pointers cutting the Minnesota lead to just five with 5:28 remaining, bringing the crowd to its feet. With 1:58 remaining, Bell knocked down a tough layup giving Minnesota the 69-62 lead.
Although all hope seemed lost for Maryland, the Terps poise and confidence down the stretch allowed them to complete the comeback. Trailing by five, sophomore guard Channise Lewis drew an offensive foul to give Maryland the possession once again. On the ensuing inbounds pass Lewis found junior Stephanie Jones, who finished the contested lefty layup plus the foul trimming the Gopher lead to just two.
Officials called a foul on Charles with 28 seconds remaining, forcing the Terps to either foul or trap Minnesota to get the ball back. Off of the inbounds pass and a battle for the ball, Maryland was awarded the possession with 26.6 seconds remaining. Charles knew it was time for her and her teammates to lock in, and as the leader of the team relayed that message.
“I told my teammates, if we lock in to what we do and our standards, our culture we can come back,” Charles said. “I told them we’re gonna do this, just fight for each other play for each other and we will come out with the win if we do that.”
Needing a basket, head coach Brenda Frese called timeout and Charles used her speed and aggressive to finish the lefty layup sending the Xfinity Center into a craze.
“They were really playing me to my left hand and i’m right handed, so I just saw a lane and my teammates have been encouraging me all game to stay in the game,” Charles said.
After the exhilarating win, Maryland will now travel to West Lafayette on Monday to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.
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