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Maryland women’s basketball opens final ACC season by beating North Carolina

Alyssa Thomas had 21 points and 14 rebounds in a road victory for No. 8 Maryland over No. 10 North Carolina. (Ellen Ozier/Associated Press)

The eighth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team parlayed balanced scoring inside and out with rugged defense and precision at the foul line when it mattered most to hold off No. 10 North Carolina, 79-70, on Sunday afternoon in front of 4,830 at Carmichael Arena.

In the Terrapins’ final ACC opener before departing next season for the Big Ten, senior forward Alyssa Thomas had game highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds and freshman forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 16 points and seven rebounds . Senior guard Katie Rutan scored 14 points, and freshman point guard Lexie Brown (12 points, six assists ) completed Maryland players in double figures.

Maryland (13-1, 1-0 ACC) won its 11th consecutive game, its sixth of eight against North Carolina and for just the third time in 14 tries in Chapel Hill. The Terrapins also left especially gratified following last season’s 60-57 loss at Carmichael Arena in which Coach Brenda Frese used eight players because of an injury-depleted roster.

“Really proud for us to be able to come in here and get a really tough, gritty road win at Carolina,” Frese said. “I thought we did a tremendous job with our vets, with our rookies coming in playing with a lot of confidence. There’s been a lot of talk obviously about Carolina’s freshmen, but we’ve got some really special freshmen as well.”

The Terrapins scored their final 12 points from the foul line, including eight of the last 10 by freshmen. Brown shot 5 for 6 during that stretch, Brionna Jones made both her attempts and Walker-Kimbrough went 1 for 2. Maryland was 20 for 23 overall on foul shots (87 percent).

Before the foul-shooting clinic, the Terrapins built their largest lead at 57-39 on the strength of Rutan’s three three-pointers in a row early in the second half. Thomas followed with a jumper, and junior guard Laurin Mincy delivered a pass to Rutan for a fast-break layup that led to a timeout by North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder, who is filling in for Sylvia Hatchell while she is being treated for leukemia.

The Tar Heels responded out of the stoppage with nine points in a row, and another flurry trimmed the deficit to 61-55 with 7 minutes 1 second left. The 5-0 surge ended with Stephanie Mavunga’s layup, but from there Thomas began to reassert herself around the rim and with aggression going for loose balls.

The two-time ACC player of the year scored back-to-back baskets on offensive rebounds before making two foul shots after she pried the ball free during a contested possession. Those free throws provided a 69-59 cushion with 4:13 to play, allowing the Terrapins to work the clock and score from the foul line. In the closing minutes, North Carolina got no closer than seven points.

Mavunga led the Tar Heels (12-3, 0-1) with 15 points and seven rebounds. Guard Diamond DeShields had 12 points and five rebounds while playing with her injured left hand heavily taped.

“A heck of a way to finish out our last time playing in Chapel Hill,” Thomas said. “Extremely proud of my teammates, how they fought to the wire. We never got down on ourselves.”

Maryland opened its largest lead of the first half by scoring 14 of the first 21 points, but North Carolina brought the crowd into the game with seven in a row, including the final six straight from Latifah Coleman, for a 17-16 lead.

Maryland offered a final flurry to close the half with a 40-31 lead. Included were a steal and layup by Walker-Kimbrough, two Walker-Kimbrough foul shots and a three-pointer out of a timeout by Rutan, who left Carmichael one year ago with a bloody broken nose during a collision going for the ball.

“I was reminded all week about my nose, up to the game and right before,” Rutan said. “It’s a physical game, and whatever happens happens. I’m really glad I didn’t leave this time with a lot of blood. I kept it in my body. It’s a great experience playing here and getting a win.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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