The Maryland women’s basketball team didn’t perform like the top seed in the NCAA tournament’s Spokane Region for much of Saturday afternoon’s first-round game against No. 16 seed New Mexico State.
Fortunately for the Terrapins, sophomore center Brionna Jones was able to rise above the malaise, finishing with game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds to fuel a 75-57 victory at Xfinity Center.
Maryland (31-2) won its 25th game in a row to set a program single-season record and draws No. 8 seed Princeton in Monday night’s second round. The 13th-ranked Tigers (31-0) beat Wisconsin-Green Bay, 80-70, in Saturday’s first game to remain the country’s only undefeated women’s team — and did so in front of supporters who included President Obama.
The leader of the free world didn’t stick around to watch the Terrapins pull away in the second half courtesy of a 12-2 burst. Laurin Mincy made a three-pointer to begin the flurry, and by the time the redshirt senior made a pair of foul shots, Maryland was comfortably ahead 60-40 with 12 minutes 3 seconds left in regulation.
“We had to shake off some rust,” Coach Brenda Frese said of the Terrapins’ first game in nearly two weeks. “I thought we were able really early to establish an inside presence with [Jones]. Then I thought our depth was able to wear them out. Not the most complete 40-minute game we’ve been able to play, but I like the fact that we were kind of able to come out, get into a rhythm.”
The 6-foot-3 Jones scored 10 of Maryland’s first 12 points in the first half and four of its first six coming out of intermission. Her rebound total was two short of New Mexico State’s starters combined and twice as a many as she collected in a 77-74 victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament final March 8.
Jones shot 7 for 10 and made 8 of 9 free throws to finish two points shy of matching her career high in scoring. It was her first double-double since March 1, when she had 14 points and 13 rebounds in a regular season-ending win over then-No. 25 Northwestern.
“Like a PT boat attacking a battleship,” Aggies Coach Mark Trakh said of trying to defend Jones using a matchup zone.
Mincy chipped in 19 points, and sophomore guard-forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 10 points but committed five of Maryland’s 20 turnovers. The Terrapins were able to offset sloppy ball security and 5-for-17 three-point shooting by outrebounding the Aggies 45-20 and going 18 for 21 from the free throw line.
New Mexico State (22-8) placed three players in double figures, with forward Brianna Freeman scoring 15 points and guard Sasha Weber adding 14.
Defense, particularly against Jones, proved a larger concern.
“My teammates, they got me the ball when I was open,” Jones said. “I just worked hard to stay open against the zone. In the second half, we did a good job once we got it in of kicking it out. I think we just did a good job of sharing the ball.”
Maryland used a 12-4 run late in the first half to open a double-digit lead. Walker-Kimbrough got it going with a driving layup, and Brene Moseley (Paint Branch) followed with a three-point play before Lexie Brown added a steal and fast-break layup.
The Aggies scored back-to-back layups themselves, but the Terrapins bumped their advantage to 27-16 when Mincy scored off an assist from Moseley before Walker-Kimbrough swished a three-pointer. New Mexico State called a timeout, and out of the stoppage, the Terrapins used a 9-1 burst to extend the lead to 37-23 on Mincy’s offensive rebound and putback.
The Terrapins played most of first half without Brown, the sophomore starting point guard, who picked up her second foul with five minutes left. Frese instead turned to Moseley, a junior, and freshman Kristen Confroy to handle most of the ballhandling against the Western Athletic Conference champions, who were in their first NCAA tournament in 27 years.
“I think it just comes down to us settling down,” Confroy said. “I know for me personally, this is my first run in an NCAA tournament, so there’s a lot going on and trying to channel all that energy into playing hard and making the right decisions. I think eventually we were able to kind of pick them apart and figure out what we needed to do.”
● PRINCETON 80, WISCONSIN-GREEN BAY 70: Michelle Miller scored 20 points, Annie Tarakchian added 19 and the eighth-seeded Tigers (31-0) mounted a second-half comeback against the ninth-seeded Phoenix (28-5) to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament win.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.