A little bit of a scuffle that actually handed out punishment in No. 17 Maryland’s favor with 3:11 remaining in the third sparked something within No. 1 South Carolina as it quit messing around with the Terps and dominated the rest of the game en route to an 81-56 victory Friday night in College Park, Md.
When all this occurred, the undersized Terps (1-1, 0-0 Big Ten), who were playing without their best player in Diamond Miller due to an apparent knee injury suffered on Monday, trailed by just eight and in a fashion not too dissimilar to the way they fell just short against the Gamecocks last year. Maryland was hit hard by transfers yet again this past offseason and is not considered to be as fearsome as it was last year, yet there the Terps were battling their hearts out en route to some success. Princeton transfer Abby Meyers was fueling most of it and went on to finish with a game-high 21 points.
But Maryland freshman Bri McDaniel missed badly on a mid-range fallaway that would have cut it to six with 3:21 left in the third. She then played aggressive defense on Kierra Fletcher as South Carolina (2-0, 0-0 SEC) made its way up the court on its ensuing possession. She would bump Fletcher and the two of them would exchange some heated words. They had to be separated by their teammates and the referees, in the process of which South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso shoved aside Maryland freshman Gia Cooke.
McDaniel and Fletcher were called for offsetting techs and Cardoso was assessed an intentional foul. Maryland was over the limit so Fletcher shot and made two free throws before Meyers went 1-of-2 on the free throws awarded for Cardoso’s foul.
All that left the Terps still down just nine and with possession, but momentum would swing in South Carolina’s favor quickly. The Gamecocks ended the third on a 14-4 run, which turned into a 26-8 run 4:31 into the fourth, giving them a 27-point lead.
South Carolina was patient throughout the game on offense, passing the ball around until someone got an open look on the perimeter or Aliyah Boston got good position inside. Zia Cooke, who finished with a Gamecock-high 18 points, made a three at 2:36 in the third and capped the frame with three made free throws after she was fouled on a half-court shot.
It wasn’t as silly a mistake as you might think on Maryland’s part leading up to those free throws — a bad backwards pass from Terp Elisa Pinzan toward mid-court led to a frantic battle for the ball and, while still just trying to get possession back, Terp Shyanne Sellers made contact with Cooke as she was going into her shooting motion with 1.8 seconds left on the clock.
Cardoso is 6-foot-7 and Maryland’s tallest players, Miller and Mila Reynolds, are 6-foot-3. As mentioned, Miller didn’t play, and Reynolds, a freshman, only played four minutes of garbage time. Sellers, a 6-foot-2 guard, was the tallest Maryland player who was actually out there when the game was still within reach. Cardoso converted on a soul-crushing 3-point play with 23 seconds to go in the third. Maryland was in position for a defensive rebound, but Cardoso got the ball simply because of her height and made a layup while getting fouled. The and-one conversion took South Carolina’s lead from 13 to 16, and, with the fourth quarter approaching, may have been the play that put the game out of reach.
A Laeticia Amihere three at the 5:29 mark of the fourth gave the Gamecocks their first 27-point lead, which would end up being their largest lead of the game.
Boston finished with 16 points, on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, and 13 rebounds. Cooke was 4-of-9 from downtown. South Carolina outrebounded the Terps 55-32, helping it overcome losing the turnover margin by seven. The Gamecocks won points in the paint 40-20, second chance points 18-7, bench points 34-16 and blocks 11-0.