IOWA CITY — Megan Gustafson, who sits first in the country in points per game, showed that she may be unrivaled in another category Sunday afternoon at a rocking Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
This one is perhaps less calculable, though that’s not to say its effects couldn’t be seen on the faces of the Maryland women’s basketball team as the game, an 86-73 loss to Iowa, wore on. The Terrapins rolled their eyes more in the second half. They muttered more under their breath. The high-fives among teammates had a little more slap to them.
“They did a great job of defending [Gustafson],” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said after the game, “but she will wear teams down.”
Gustafson took all of her relentless scoring power and deadly patience and dropped 31 points, including 24 in the second half, to help No. 14 Iowa upset No. 7 Maryland to leave the teams tied at the top of the Big Ten standings.
It was a rich prize for Hawkeyes fans who turned up after more than 12 hours of steady snowfall to put on a proper welcome for the Terps and their Iowa-born coach, Brenda Frese.
Frese had her own pocket of supporters in town for the dual celebration of her homecoming and her twin sons’ 11th birthdays. But all other corners of Carver-Hawkeye Arena were filled with screaming, yellow-clad spectators that made up Iowa’s largest crowd this season.
The 10,716 in attendance got to see the Hawkeyes (21-5, 12-3) beat Maryland for the first time since the Terps (23-3, 12-3) joined the conference in 2014. Iowa’s previous win over Maryland was in 1992.
“What a game. What an atmosphere,” Frese said. “I mean, it felt like one of those games where you don’t want your season to end.”
Sunday’s atmosphere evoked that of an NCAA tournament game, and so did the play on the court. Although Iowa seemed in control for much of the second half as Gustafson racked up points and the Terps fell deeper into foul trouble, Maryland matched Iowa physically, and the Hawkeyes didn’t start to pull away for good until a three-pointer by Alexis Sevillian gave them a six-point lead with 2:31 to play.
By then, Brianna Fraser, Maryland’s lone senior and a big with enough physicality to nearly match Gustafson, had fouled out. The team’s leading scorer, Kaila Charles, was still without a bucket.
The Terps trailed by just one after a Channise Lewis three with 3:25 left, but Charles picked up her fourth foul, and Iowa scored five quick points. Gustafson hit two free throws, Maryland missed a three on the other end, and Sevillian nailed a pull-up three-pointer that got the fans out of their seats and seemed to deflate an already frustrated Maryland team.
The Terps never got closer than four points after that, in part because of three sloppy turnovers on critical possessions.
“I thought that was a huge, huge basket for us,” Bluder said of Sevillian’s three, “and then we made free throws.”
Though it was Sevillian’s deep ball that swung momentum in Iowa’s favor for good, Gustafson’s scoring made the difference in the second half.
Gustafson entered Sunday averaging 27.3 points and shooting 70.9 percent from the field, ranking first in the nation in both categories, but Maryland held her to just seven points on 3-for-7 shooting in the first half while Iowa’s guards, and the team’s defense, did the work to keep the score tied at 33 at halftime.
In the second half, Frese didn’t go through her rotations the way she usually does because of foul trouble, and Gustafson kept at it in the lane. She shot 7 for 11 from the field, made 10 free throws and grabbed 13 rebounds in the second half.
“You’ve just got to keep working, keep wearing them down, and that’s just what I try to do, especially when I’m not hitting all my shots in the first half,” Gustafson said.
Her strong play helped push the Hawkeyes to a 41-37 rebounding edge. Iowa also went to the free throw line 29 times compared with the Terps’ eight trips.
In addition to Gustafson’s 31 points, Tania Davis, who played a big role in keeping Iowa afloat offensively in the first half, added 13 points. Hannah Stewart and Kathleen Doyle had 12 each.
Stephanie Jones led the Terps with 21 points and added eight rebounds. Taylor Mikesell had 14 points, and Blair Watson had 13 as Iowa’s defense zeroed in on Charles and clogged driving lanes for her all game. The Maryland junior, who averaged 16.2 points coming in, had just two before fouling out in the final minute.
“She’s a tremendous player. She’s a phenomenal athlete, and we just really wanted to make her prove it from outside against us,” Bluder said of Charles.
Maryland freshman Shakira Austin had nine rebounds, almost all of them up against Gustafson.
At the end of the game, Frese shared a moment with the Hawkeyes senior and complimented her on how much she has grown in her four years at Iowa. Gustafson had never scored more than 15 points against Maryland before Sunday.
“I just told her I really enjoyed watching her growth,” Frese said. “To be able to see from her first couple years to the player she’s evolved into — she takes those double- and triple-teams every single night. She plays with so much passion and so much energy.”