With just less than four minutes to play and fifth-ranked Duke on a two-on-one fast break, Alyssa Thomas was running back on defense for the No. 7 Maryland women’s basketball team Monday night when Blue Devils guard Chelsea Gray moved in front of the junior forward to shield her from the play.
That tactic brought Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese off the bench in outrage, and she voiced her displeasure to officials emphatically heading into a stoppage in play with Maryland trailing, 59-50, following Gray’s layup. The exchange led to a technical foul that meant Duke would be shooting a pair of free throws immediately after the break.
But moments later during the timeout, referee Denise Brooks issued a second technical to the Maryland bench, and for the first time in her career, Frese was ejected, leaving associate head coach Tina Langley to take over on the way to a 71-56 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I’m always going to fight for our players,” Frese said in the postgame news conference. “I mean that’s obvious. If I see a concern that I feel like one of our players is going to be injured, which given our numbers that’s going to be a concern, and I’m always going to fight for our kids, to protect them, with any kind of play that would cause injury.”
The game was extremely physical on both sides throughout, underscoring the bitter rivalry between the schools. Maryland (19-4, 10-2 ACC), which was missing three starters because of injury, was called for 17 personal fouls and Duke 14, although the Blue Devils shot twice as many free throws (22 to 11). Gray made 13 of 14, including four in a row following Frese’s ejection.
Duke won for a fifth consecutive time against Maryland at home thanks in large part to Gray’s career-high 28 points. The junior guard shot 6 of 13, with three three-pointers, and added three rebounds, three assists and a game-high four steals to keep the Blue Devils unbeaten in the ACC.
The Terrapins, meantime, had a nine-game winning streak halted in one of their more futile shooting performances. Maryland missed 25 of 36 shots in the second half and shot 34 percent for the game. Junior forward Alyssa Thomas, the reigning ACC player of the year, and senior forward Tianna Hawkins, the leading scorer in the conference, combined to shoot 7 for 30.
Maryland also committed 24 turnovers, two short of its season high, thanks to Duke’s full-court pressure that took advantage of the Terrapins’ lack of a experience at point guard. Chloe Pavlech was responsible for nine, the most this season for the freshman guard who had been so dependable against ranked opponents despite her youth.
Pavlech did provide Maryland its only lead, 44-42, on a three-pointer with 10 minutes 51 seconds left in regulation, but Gray countered with seven consecutive points, and the Blue Devils never looked back as they secured the inside track on the top seed in the ACC tournament.
“For Chloe tonight this was her first time playing at Duke, and I’m sure Alyssa can share stories of her first time playing at Duke,” Frese said. “It’s a different element that you’ve got to get comfortable with.”