Maryland was down by two points in the middle of the third quarter. The Terps had already fought back from an 11-point deficit, but now, they needed to seize control.
The Terps proceeded a 20-2 run fueled by their suffocating defense and some timely offense from Abby Meyers.
This run gave Maryland a lead that the Terps would maintain for the rest of the game to claim an 82-71 win over Illinois on senior day.
“The push we needed came at the perfect time,” Faith Masonius said.
Maryland now improves to 34-1 at home in the month of February since 2014 and 13-0 all-time against Illinois.
Senior Diamond Miller was at the forefront of a brutal paint attack from the Terps’ offense. She scored a game-high 31 points, one shy of her career-high, and Maryland scored 56 points in the paint.
“Coach said at halftime, let’s run to them because they don’t want to defend us, and I think we, especially Diamond, definitely capitalized on that by attacking the paint and getting some and-ones,” Meyers said.
Meyers struggled early on shooting the ball, but she turned it on in the second half and finished with 18 points.
The key to the Terps’ victory was their aggressive non-stop full-court pressure. Maryland forced 25 Fighting Illini turnovers that turned into 29 points on the other end.
“I think our defense was the key, and we weren’t really locked in at the beginning of the game. Obviously being locked in for the second half and forcing a lot of turnovers. We got a lot of steals and turned them into layups,” Elisa Pinzan said.
Shyanne Sellers and Bri McDaniel were at the head of the Terps’ press causing havoc all game. Sellers recorded five steals, and McDaniel gave the team a jolt of energy off the bench.
“I thought the change-up defensively was really important, getting into our press and getting into our man. I can’t say enough about Bri. I’m really excited about where she’s trending right now,” Coach Brenda Frese said.
Maryland struggled with turnovers themselves on the offensive end early on. They had five turnovers in the first quarter but cleaned it up and only recorded 7 turnovers in the remaining three quarters.
Maryland shot an uncharacteristic 0 of 17 from three-point range. However, they were perfect from the free-throw line shooting 18 of 18.
Illinois, on the other hand, was terrific from long range. They shot 12 of 20 from behind the arc with eight triples coming in the first half.
Makira Cook was sensational, and the Fighting Illini relied on her to fuel their offense, especially down the stretch. Cook shot 11 of 23, including four triples, for 29 points. However, she also turned the ball over nine times.
Maryland started the game out of sorts and made some uncharacteristic mistakes on the offensive end.
Miller’s first half was a mixed bag as she looked unstoppable at times but also struggled with turnovers and missed shots.
Miller scored a team-high 12 points in the half but did so on 5 of 12 shooting and with two turnovers.
The Terps’ intrusive defense was able to keep the Fighting Illini’s offense in check for much of the first quarter.
However, as the quarter wore on, Illinois began to heat up from long range.
The Fighting Illini were impeccable from behind the arc in the first quarter shooting 5 of 5.
Maryland looked to have cleaned things up when Masonius and Miller scored two quick buckets to open the second quarter.
However, the same problems that plagued the Terps in the first quarter continued to plague them in the second.
Maryland simply couldn’t contain Illinois from deep, as the Fighting Illini shot 8 of 12 from three-point range in the half.
Maryland, on the other hand, couldn’t buy a bucket from long-range. The Terps shot 0 of 10 from behind the arc in the half.
Illinois led Maryland 37-28 after one half.
Maryland mounted a come-back in the third quarter fueled by their pestering defense.
The Terps’ pressure flustered the Illinois offense all game, but the impact was magnified when they switched to full-court pressure in the third.
“Halftime was what halftime needed to be. And I think that fired us up, and when we got back out, we came out playing good defense and just executing on both sides of the court,” Miller said.
Nothing personified this more than when Cook passed the ball to her coach, Shauna Green, on the sideline when attempting to break the press late in the third quarter, much to the chagrin of Green.
Maryland closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run to take a 59-45 lead into the fourth.
The Terps continued to pound the ball into the paint in the fourth as they had all game. This allowed them to get to the free throw line, where they found consistent offense to close out the game and secure the win.
The Terps now await a battle with Michigan State on Saturday.