Tianna Hawkins celebrated her senior day with game-highs in points and rebounds, while former walk on Sequoia Austin had a career day to lead the Terps to an 88-61 beat down of 168th RPI-ranked Wake Forest Sunday afternoon at Comcast Center in College Park, Md.
In addition to Tianna, former volleyball player and mid-season addition Caitlin Adams was honored before the game in a senior day ceremony. The Terps expect to be back home for both the first and second round of the NCAA tournament, since Comcast is one of the host sites again this year and they will be favorites to go to at least the Sweet Sixteen. But you still got the sense from the way they acted postgame that Maryland came in wanting to make the most of senior day, even though it may not have been anybody's last home game.
The results didn't disappoint, as the Terps pulled out a great team win that snapped their only losing streak of the regular season (it had been just two games long) and allowed them to end on a high note before heading to Greensboro, N.C. next weekend for the ACC tournament.
Hawkins (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Austin (15 points) were two of five Terps in double figures scoring. Star forward Alyssa Thomas had 16 points, 8 boards and a game-high seven assists, while Alicia DeVaughn was good for 14 points and 7 rebounds and Malina Howard notched 13 points, including a 2 for 3 effort from beyond the arc. Hawkins was also 2 for 3 from downtown and neither had ever had a game with multiple 3-point makes coming in. Katie Rutan fell shy of scoring in double figures, but chipped in with eight points and a career-high eight boards.
"It was terrific to be able to see five players score in double figures and to have Sequoia come in and give us the energy that she played with tonight," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "And obviously Alyssa and Tianna in terms of what they do. So a special memory for us on senior day with Tianna and Caitlin."
Austin's 15 points and 11 shot attempts from the field were both career highs and her six makes from the field tied a career high. The junior guard played the second most minutes of her career (22) for a team that needed help depth-wise because they were without Tierney Pfirman, who was out sick.
Sequoia clearly came to play Sunday and put up shots with seemingly no hesitation. The only other ACC game this year in which has played more than 20 minutes and scored more than five points was the Clemson game on Feb. 14, which was the last game the Terps played without Pfirman before the freshman forward returned from a dislocated right kneecap. With Tierney out for an unrelated reason on Sunday, Austin stepped up again.
"It feels great," Austin said after the game. "The theme of the day is the seniors and going into the tournament on a good note, so I think that's what really got me going.
"Once you hit one, every other shot feels great. I kept getting confidence from my teammates to keep shooting and keep playing."
Sequoia scored all seven of her first half points during a 15-1 Terp run that went from 15:35 to 7:43 remaining in the first. She knocked down a three to make Maryland's lead 15-5 with 12:01 remaining in the half, and later made a mid-range shot and a fast break layup on consecutive possessions that made the score 21-6 and really got the crowd going.
As things stood 13 minutes into the game, Austin was the Terps' leading scorer and it was her contribution on the 15-1 run that really allowed Maryland to start to pull away. After Sequoia's three with 12:01 remaining in the first, the Demon Deacons trailed by at least 10 for the remainder of the contest.
Wake Forest's only lead came after a Lakevia Boykin three made it 3-2 with 18:44 remaining in the first. That lead lasted just 18 seconds.
Boykin entered the game as the Demon Deacons' co-leading scorer, along with Chelsea Douglas. Both had exactly 415 points in 29 games before Sunday. Boykin now finishes the regular season one point ahead of Douglas since she had eight points at Maryland to Chelsea's seven, but the key point is that both scored below their shared season average of 14.1.
Dearica Hamby (11 points), Sandra Garcia (10 points) and Patrice Johnson (10 points) were the players in double figures scoring for Wake. Those efforts were not enough for the Demon Deacs to give Maryland another run for their money like they did on Feb. 8 when they only lost by 10 in Winston-Salem.
"We really came in here today feeling like we were going to be able to give them a run because of what we were able to do at home, but I think they played extremely well," Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover said. "They were coming off of two tough losses and they're one of the top teams in the country. They hit us hard early and we just didn't respond like we hoped we'd be able to."
"I think, being here as a senior, I knew their capability," Garcia said of Maryland. "I think that for us we should have come out a little stronger. First half and second half we let them get too many open ones, but it was nothing that caught me off guard."
Their opponents know they can play, but maybe that target on their back will serve Maryland well, as it did on Sunday and as it has for much of the season.
However, when playing teams in the ACC who are on a similar level as them, the Terps have ended up with a mixed bag of results. The blowout of UNC at Comcast stands as their shining moment, but they probably wouldn't have predicted that they would go 0 for 3 against ranked ACC opponents on the road. A road win against either UNC or FSU, and certainly a win at Cameron, would have been amazing for their resume and their confidence heading into the postseason.
But that shortcoming is something they can't beat themselves up over. In fact, they've already moved on.
When asked how soon they put Thursday night's loss at FSU behind them, Brenda Frese didn't hesitate to answer.
"Immediately," Frese said. "Quicker than any game - we didn't watch film. We moved quickly to be able to get ourselves mentally prepared for what's ahead. It's just understanding what's needed at the moment. We got back extremely late from Tallahassee, so it was important for I us, I thought, to mentally get our minds right and get ourselves rest to be prepared."
And if they are focused, the Terps have shown they can be a dangerous team. They didn't give up on their lofty expectations when some of their best players went down, so don't expect them to aim any lower now, especially with Thomas and Hawkins setting the bar.
"I'm very confident that my team is going to make a run in this postseason and we just have to go into every game with a lot of confidence," Hawkins said Sunday.
Before that run even starts though, it is worth acknowledging the incredible regular season run the Terps have had, all of which would not have been possible if not for the improvement of Hawkins. Every college athlete strives to reach their pinnacle in their senior season and Tianna has epitomized what it means to do just that. Postgame, both she and her junior teammate Thomas were asked to reflect on the significance of Sunday's ceremonial, though not official, send off.
"With everything that she's done for us and this program, we just wanted to go out with a bang for her," Thomas said of Hawkins.
"It's just been a great experience to be a part of this tradition, a part of this program and I'm really looking forward to what's ahead of me," Hawkins said.
Later on Sunday the seedings for were announced for the ACC tournament. Maryland will be the No. 2-seed and play the winner of No. 7-seed Georgia Tech vs. No. 10-seed Wake Forest. Read more about it at umterps.com and wakeforestsports.com.