But Sara Vujacic couldn’t help herself.
The senior was stoic as she checked into the game late in the third quarter of the Terrapins’ 88-45 win over Purdue, tucking in her jersey as the crowd at Xfinity Center cheered her perhaps a bit more loudly than usual, it being senior night.
But when Vujacic caught a pass from Taylor Mikesell and calmly swished a three-pointer to give Maryland (24-4, 15-2 Big Ten) its largest lead of the night to that point, the guard broke into a wide grin. Vujacic didn’t have to watch to know her shot was good — the ball didn’t touch the rim — and she jogged down the floor while twirling her finger in the air as if to say, “Keep it coming.”
“This was a special night for me,” Vujacic, a native of Slovenia, said afterward. “My parents visited the U.S.A. for the first time. . . . So it was really special for me just to have them by my side.”
Vujacic and classmates Kaila Charles, Blair Watson and Stephanie Jones celebrated senior night with a win over the Boilermakers (17-12, 8-9), the Terps’ 13th in a row overall, in what has become typical Maryland fashion over the past month.
Jones led five Maryland scorers in double figures with 18 points and added nine rebounds; Charles had 14 points and 11 rebounds to complement smothering defense that held Purdue to 31.1 percent shooting from the field and allowed them just 61 field goal attempts to the Terps’ 77.
“That’s one of the best defensive teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Purdue Coach Sharon Versyp said.
The rest of the squad filled out a stuffed stat sheet, evidence of a team that overpowered its opponent: Sophomore forward Shakira Austin had 17 points and 13 rebounds, freshman Diamond Miller added 12 points, and Vujacic chipped in 10. Freshman point guard Ashley Owusu had nine assists, and Watson had five.
It was exactly the type of performance Frese wants to see in late February with one game left in the regular season. The only nit the coach had to pick was the Terps’ 12 first-half turnovers, which winnowed to three after halftime.
Maryland, which has already locked up a top-three seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, can snag the top seed if it wins its final game Sunday at Minnesota and Iowa (22-5, 13-3) finishes in sole possession of third place. Northwestern (25-3, 15-2), by virtue of its 0-1 record against Iowa as opposed to Maryland’s 1-1 mark against the Hawkeyes, would be the second seed.
But the Terps couldn’t think about the Big Ten tournament Tuesday. Staying in the moment, after all, is up there with Frese’s guidelines, right next to staying even-keeled.
Maryland made staying unemotional difficult on its four graduating players. Senior night opened with a collage of special moments, beginning with the playing of the Slovenian national anthem in honor of Vujacic, whose parents traveled to College Park to watch her play. There was Jones’s mother, in a bedazzled sweatshirt with “Jones 24” on the back, attending her second senior day in three years after her older daughter Brionna’s, and Watson’s sister and mother; her brother couldn’t attend because he recently got a new job.
The Terps stayed steady despite the extra pomp and circumstance to take an early lead. With its size advantage strengthening an already robust defense, Maryland all but had the win wrapped up in the first half. Purdue had seven critical turnovers in the first 10 minutes alone — including a highlight reel-worthy play on an inbounds pass in which the Terps kept the Boilermakers from finding an open player — that put the Boilermakers in a seven-point deficit from which they never recovered.
After Vujacic’s three-pointer put the Terps up by 29 near the end of the third quarter, Maryland’s lead ballooned to 39 points late in the fourth before settling at 43, its largest margin of victory in conference play. Purdue’s 45 points were the fewest the Terps allowed in a Big Ten game since 2017, and the win closed a 9-0 home slate in conference play this season and was a fitting way to pay tribute to Maryland’s four seniors.
“We had a load placed on us our sophomore year,” Charles said, referring to the rash of players Maryland lost to transfer after her freshman season. “I think we all did a great job responding, and then we added Sara last year and since then we’ve just been leaders and trying to lead by example. . . . We need that going forward, just having all of our seniors leading the charge. I love the fact that everyone’s coming into their own — Steph’s making her own legacy, Blair’s making her own legacy, Sara is. It’s just something we’ve got to keep going.”