The No. 3-seeded Tar Heels, meantime, erased a deficit that had reached 16 points six seconds before halftime to stage the second-biggest comeback in ACC tournament history. North Carolina, which has won two of three against Maryland this season, earned a date with top-seeded Duke in Sunday’s championship game.
“It was definitely a tale of two different halves,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “I think for us it was a situation where their depth, their numbers were able to wear us out. Obviously the overtime game yesterday and playing a rotation of about six players caught up with us, but I’m proud of the fight.”
Maryland (24-7) had six players log at least 25 minutes, with reserve freshman forward Malina Howard playing 28. No other player was on the court for more than 11 minutes, and the Terrapins already were without freshman forward Tierney Pfirman, a top reserve averaging 20 minutes who is out indefinitely with mononucleosis.
In the second half, the Terrapins were outrebounded 26-14 and yielded 48 points on 50 percent shooting thanks in large to part to the unexpected contributions of the Tar Heels’ Latifah Coleman. The sophomore guard scored all of her career-high 17 points in the second half, including a layup with 5 minutes 23 seconds left in regulation that put North Carolina ahead to stay, 54-53.
Coleman also sank a three-pointer that tied the score at 52 and scored seven consecutive points down the stretch to keep Maryland at arm’s length. Coleman played just two minutes with no points in Friday’s 62-57 quarterfinal victory over Boston College.
“I know everyone’s going to ask me where Latifah came from,” Tar Heels Coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “So we shipped her in from Mars this morning.”
While Coleman and her teammates made one clutch shot after the other, the Terrapins were left to lament a flurry of missed opportunities, including 1 of 8 from three-point range in the second half coupled with blown layups, air balls from long range and short jumpers that rattled around the rim and out.
Senior forward Tianna Hawkins chipped in 14 points and 10 rebounds but missed 11 of 18 shots. The ACC scoring leader and first-team all-ACC selection entered fourth in the conference in field goal percentage (55.6).
“It was very physical down low, but I know on my end you’ve got to focus on making shots under the basket,” Hawkins said. “There’s no reason why you should miss so many layups under the basket. Yes, it was a very physical game, but you can’t make excuses.”
Katie Rutan was the only other Maryland player to reach double figures with 12 points. After going 3 for 6 from three-point range in the first half, the junior guard thereafter missed 5 of 6 from that distance.
Maryland also made 14 fewer trips to the foul line than North Carolina (28-5), which got a team-high 20 points from senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and 19 points and 11 rebounds from senior center Waltiea Rolle. Ruffin-Pratt was 10 of 12 on free throws and added six assists and a game-high four steals.
“Definitely a disappointment to not be back to the championship,” said Thomas, who was named tournament MVP last season. “But we’ve got to focus and move on to the next game and get focused on the NCAA tournament.”
Duke 72, Florida State 66: The top-seeded Blue Devils got 17 points each from Tricia Liston and Haley Peters and held off the No. 4 Seminoles in the final minutes to advance to their 13th ACC tournament final.
Duke (29-2), which outrebounded Florida State, 43-32, also had Alexis Jones (12 points) and Elizabeth Williams (11 points) score in double figures. Chelsea Davis led the Seminoles (22-9) with 17 points.