Roughly an hour and a half before tip-off on Sunday afternoon, fans began arriving on foot, in cars and by the busload at Comcast Center in anticipation of witnessing Alyssa Thomas perhaps make a run at becoming the all-time scoring leader in Maryland women’s basketball history.
The opponent, in this case Virginia Tech, was mostly incidental on the way to Thomas’s potential coronation on Senior Day that included a pregame ceremony recognizing her and four other classmates.
Using an all-senior starting lineup for the first time this season, the ninth-ranked Terrapins made quick work of their ACC border rival, 87-48, but Thomas will have to wait at least one more game for the record. The two-time ACC player of the year finished with a game-high 20 points and needs 14 more to break Crystal Langhorne’s mark of 2,247.
Still the day became unforgettable for Thomas in the game’s aftermath, when she had her name and No. 25 jersey number unfurled on a banner from the rafters with Coach Brenda Frese and Thomas’s parents and younger sister joining her on the court. The all-American nearly made it through her speech in front of the 7,164 in attendance without crying.
“I think I tried to hold it in all day, I guess,” said Thomas, who is the ninth player to receive the highest individual honor afforded a Maryland basketball player. “I don’t know. Everything just came out right there.”
By the time Thomas went to the bench for a short rest with 9 minutes 14 seconds left in regulation, she had helped stake the Terrapins (24-5, 12-4 ACC) to a 30-point lead on the way to their fourth straight win in their final regular season game as a member of the ACC. Maryland, after 37 seasons in the ACC, is set to join the Big Ten next season.
Thomas and the rest of the seniors came back with 5:52 to go and played another several minutes in wrapping up an eighth win in nine games to secure the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament that begins Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C. The top four seeds receive double byes into Friday’s quarterfinals.
“Just a tremendous team win for us . . . to be able to lock up a No. 3 seed going into the tournament,” Frese said. “Obviously the honor afterward, how fitting it was for Alyssa. I thought today you continued to see the smiling assassin out there, just how much fun she was having with her teammates.”
Maryland opened a double-figure lead in the first half with a 15-0 run during which the Hokies went without a point for more than nine minutes. The Terrapins, meanwhile, began to pull away, beginning with a basket from senior center Alicia DeVaughn, who started along with Thomas, Katie Rutan, Sequoia Austin and Essence Townsend.
Austin and Townsend are normally reserves, but they remained in the game for the first 5:21 before Frese inserted a wave of substitutes. Among them were sophomores Malina Howard and Brene Moseley and freshman Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, all of whom proceeded to score to push Maryland in front, 16-4.
Virginia Tech (14-15, 4-12) called a timeout, but the Terrapins came out of the stoppage to score 14 of the next 17 points, including a pair of field goals from Thomas. When Walker-Kimbrough scored on a layup soon after with 4:46 left until intermission, Maryland ended any drama by taking a 30-7 lead.
“It was humbling for me to be able to watch her,” Moseley said of Thomas, who added game highs of 12 rebounds and six assists. “I just think it’s good to see good things happen to good people. I think this was well-deserved. We’ve seen all the background behind what she does, all the hard work she’s put in over the years, so to be able to see an honor like this come to her, it’s comforting.”