Diamond Miller was furious after she was forced to rush a three-point attempt at the halftime buzzer Sunday afternoon in Xfinity Center. The shot didn’t come close to the rim, and she shook her fists in frustration as Maryland Coach Brenda Frese grabbed her star guard for a quick chat. Miller then yanked the jersey out of her shorts as she made a beeline for the locker room.
Diamond Miller, No. 8 Maryland regroup at halftime, fend off Illinois
Twenty minutes of game action later, she had 31 points, one shy of a career high, and had led No. 8 Maryland to its largest comeback of the season. After trailing by 11 not long before halftime, the Terrapins used a dominant third quarter to secure an 82-71 victory over Illinois and improve to 13-0 against the Fighting Illini all time.
“Halftime was what halftime needed to be,” said Miller, whose team has won three in a row following a lopsided loss at then-No. 6 Iowa. “I think that fired us up and, when we came back out, we came out playing good defense and just executing on both sides of the court. I think we all pretty much felt it. And that’s what we need to work on as a team, flipping the switch a little bit more quickly than what we do.”
After trailing 37-28 at halftime, Maryland (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) essentially turned this matchup into a laugher by completely upending the game in the third quarter. The Terps picked up their full-court pressure and mixed in a variety of traps that baffled Illinois (19-7, 9-6), which turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter (and 25 times in the game). Maryland closed on a 13-0 run for a 31-8 margin in the quarter — and a 59-45 lead.
Hakim Hart is great late as the Terps find their way past Penn State
Miller set the tone by driving to the basket for a layup; she was fouled and finished the three-point play. As the quarter wore on, Illinois at times could barely get the ball across the half-court line. Maryland played a lot of zone defense in the first half but switched to man-to-man in the quarter — and that had Illinois on its heels.
“That kind of just upped our energy,” Maryland forward Faith Masonius said. “And we realized once we pressed, we have that pressure. We’re long. We can get those steals and just get wide-open layups. It kind of just gave us that energy push we needed.”
Frese said she challenged Miller and sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers during halftime. It worked: Miller added nine rebounds and four assists to her game-high point total, and Sellers finished with 13 points, six assists, four rebounds and five steals. Abby Meyers added 18 points, four rebounds and four steals.
Makira Cook led the Illini with 29 points, and Jada Peebles scored 17. The visitors were without their second-leading scorer, guard Genesis Bryant, because of injury.
Illinois has improved significantly under first-year coach Shauna Green after it finished 1-13 in Big Ten play last season. That wasn’t enough Sunday, especially in the third quarter.
“The concern, obviously, playing [the Terps] is their pressure,” Green said. “And we handled it fine until that third quarter, when we didn’t handle it fine.”
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s win:
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Maryland failed to hit a three-pointer for the first time this season; it finished 0 for 17 from behind the arc. But the Terps were a season-best 18 for 18 at the free throw line. Illinois hit 12 more three-pointers than the Terps and still lost handily.
Illinois’ 25 turnovers were a season high — the Terps turned them into 29 points. Maryland had 30 fast-break points and 56 points in the paint.
“Sometimes we get stubborn and not listen in timeouts,” Frese said. “Just understanding every game is going to be different — us getting to the free throw line 16 times in the second half and being 100 percent was a big X-factor on top of our defense. So those two areas, they just kind of started to understand where they could be successful.
“This is where it’s at in February and March. … You have to find ways to win that are going to be different.”
The Terps, who sit in third place in the Big Ten, have just three regular season games left. They visit Michigan State on Saturday before hosting No. 5 Iowa on Feb. 21. The regular season wraps up at No. 13 Ohio State on Feb. 24.
Indiana (23-1, 13-1), ranked No. 2 in the country, controls its Big Ten destiny. But it still has to play Ohio State, No. 12 Michigan and Iowa.
The Big Ten tournament begins March 1 in Minneapolis.
Maryland held senior day festivities to honor its four outgoing upperclassmen. Miller, Meyers, Masonius and Elisa Pinzan were recognized. Terps fans still have one more chance to see them at Xfinity Center against Iowa next week.
Sheila Johnson, the Washington Mystics’ president and managing partner, was in the building for the matchup with her alma mater, and she spent some time chatting with Frese before the game. Johnson was the first Black cheerleader at Illinois.