Xfinity Center has rarely been loud this season, with both Maryland basketball programs not pulling the rowdiest crowds during their regular seasons.
But on Sunday afternoon, Maryland women’s basketball rocked its home stadium with a dominant performance in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The hustle and toughness from the team fueled the palpable energy in College Park.
Three players put up 20 or more points for the Terps, with Diamond Miller clocking 24 points and 9 rebounds to lead Maryland past 13-seed Florida Gulf Coast University, 89-65. The Terps will either play top-seeded Stanford or 8-seed Kansas in head coach Brenda Frese’s tenth Sweet Sixteen appearance in Spokane, Washington on March 25.
Early on, the Eagles were able to contend with Maryland by living and dying by the 3-pointer. Knowing that they couldn’t contend with the height of the Terps inside, Florida Gulf Coast shot nine of its first 12 shots from long range.
The Eagles made three of their first nine from deep, which was able to help them only be down by three points halfway through the first quarter.
Maryland’s stars seemed to demand the ball in the opening quarter. Angel Reese, Ashley Owusu, and Diamond Miller scored all of the Terps’ first 16 points.
But the Eagles kept sticking around early as they started driving to the basket on some of Maryland’s less perimeter-oriented defenders. They went on an 8-0 run at the end of the first, which was capped off by a nice transition layup to give them an 18-17 lead.
The Terps struggled to establish their size on both sides of the court. But at the end of the first, the smallest players on the court made the biggest impact.
Graduate senior Katie Benzan ripped a steal away from Tishara Morehouse, ran the ball up the court in transition, and converted a three from the right wing to put Maryland up by two.
Tishara Morehouse wasn’t giving up for the Eagles, though, as she ran the other way down the court and blew by Benzan for a layup to tie the game up at 23 as the first quarter buzzer sounded. Benzan fell on the floor trying to defend, as both teams were fighting hard to start.
The second quarter kept the intensity going from both teams. Both squads were trading buckets going down the floor, with Kendall Spray and Diamond Miller being the hot hand for each respective side.
Maryland’s defensive pressure swarmed the Eagles, with Sheyenne Sellers and Diamond Miller giving each other a chest bump after forcing Morehouse out of bounds for a turnover in the second frame.
Momentum kept changing as Morehouse came down the floor and drained a left wing three, trimming the Eagles’ deficit to just one halfway through the second.
The Terps’ guards didn’t back down, embarking on an 8-0 run capped off by an Ashley Owusu teardrop shot to put her squad up 44-39 with less than two minutes to go in the half.
That run extended to 11-0 as their defensive effort on the floor forced a travel, which resulted in a catch and shoot three from Chloe Bibby to end the half with Maryland up, 47-39.
Maryland won two key statistics in the first half, turnovers and 3-pointers.
While the Terps only had five turnovers in the first half, the Eagles had 10 turnovers after turning it over less than five times in their entire first round matchup.
The Terps shot 50 percent from long distance in the first half. While their opponent attempted more shots from the three-point arc, they made 39% of them, which was not enough to give them the lead going into the third quarter.
The start of the second half featured a lot of chest bumps from the home team as they started to pull away from FGCU, going on a 11-3 run in the first half of the third quarter to extend their lead to 16.
Diamond Miller had a crafty steal on Morehouse and then at the other end of the floor, Mimi Collins hustled to the baseline for a rebound and then threw it off of her opponent to keep the ball with the Terps. The sequence had the Maryland bench in a frenzy.
Florida Gulf Coast lost its touch from three that it had in the first half, making only two threes in the third quarter as they began to fall behind by almost 20 points.
Miller and Owusu controlled the tempo and pace for the Terps in the third, as they began to look comfortable settling into their lead.
Owusu hit a beautiful running layup after spinning to her left and tossing it up with her right. She had 15 points at the end of the third, as Maryland led 71-52 going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth saw the Terps claw ahead even more, getting a 20-plus point lead and allowing Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby to come off the floor early after playing their last game ever in College Park.