By: Eric Myers
A 20-point lead dwindled down to one in the fourth quarter with Georgia Tech’s 15-0 run and Maryland desperately needed a spark to respond. On five consecutive possessions, Kaila Charles asserted herself as the aggressor and took control of the game for the Terrapins.
Charles’ dominant stretch, a personal 11-0 run over three minutes of play, helped relieve Maryland of the pressure that Georgia Tech created. After Charles created separation on the scoreboard, the No. 7 Terrapins held on for a 67-54 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Thursday night at the Xfinity Center.
“The play call, we continued to run it until they could stop it and they couldn’t stop it,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “[Kaila] was in a zone obviously.”
Charles’ heroics came in a game in which Maryland held a 38-18 halftime lead. The game was a tale of two halves however, as Georgia Tech’s dominant third quarter, during which they outscore Maryland 26-9, brought them back into the game. The Terrapins endured a scoring drought that lasted over four minutes, while the Yellow Jackets ended the third quarter on a 15-0 run.
Between the third and fourth quarter, Frese challenged her team to play harder and not let Georgia Tech come into their home arena and get a victory. Charles led that effort with a three-point play, two mid-range jumpers and four free throws.
“I was being more aggressive and my teammates were finding me and encouraging me to keep attacking the basket,” said Charles, who finished with 23 points. “Just having them boosting my confidence was really hopeful so that’s how I was able to make that little run.”
Maryland built their sizable halftime advantage on the strength of their defensive effort in the first two quarters. Georgia Tech came into the contest averaging 75.2 points per game, but were held to 18 points in the first half, and just six points in the opening 10 minutes.
Containing Francesca Pan was the priority for the Maryland defense as she entered Thursday’s Women’s ACC/ B1G Challenge averaging 16.7 points per game. However, the Terrapins held her to nine points on 3-14 shooting in the win.
“I thought [Maryland] did a great job. They were all over [Pan], she couldn’t get a look at the basket,” Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said. “They knew where she was all the time.”
In the second half, Georgia Tech ramped up the pressure, both in terms of the score and in their defensive approach. Joseph switched to a full-court press that flustered Maryland’s team and led to a number of turnovers, and subsequently, easy opportunities for the Yellow Jackets.
The Terrapins finished with 11 turnovers in the final 20 minutes, which led directly to 10 points for Georgia Tech.
Those miscues allowed Georgia Tech to steadily creep back into the game. Then, 45 seconds into the final quarter, Lotta-Maj Lahtinen converted a layup that put the Yellow Jackets within one point.
On the ensuing possession, Charles aggressively drove to the basket, drew the foul and completed the three-point play with a layup. On the next possession it was the 6-foot-1 guard pulling up from the top of the key for a mid-range jumper.
Charles’ run, and Maryland’s lead, increased two more points after Blair Watson secured a steal, got out in transition and found Charles, who was fouled before making two free throws. To close out her scoring run, Charles made two more free throws and hit another mid-range shot.
“It’s give Kaila the ball and get a stop of defense,” freshman guard Taylor Mikesell said about the mindset during Charles’ run.