Coming off wins over Northwestern and Ohio State, respectively, the Maryland Terrapins and the Michigan State Spartans clashed Sunday night in Indianapolis with the title of Big Ten Tournament Champions on the line.
After leading for almost all of the first half, Suzy Merchant's Spartan squad crumbled in the second, allowing the Terrapins to claim their second-consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship title with a 60-44 victory.
"I thought we were battling the first half and then just really came unraveled in the second," Merchant said. "They out-hustled us and outworked us. In the second half, we were just a little flat. And that was frustrating. So give them credit."
The first half proved to be extraordinarily tight-knit. The Spartans led 26-24 at halftime, but their largest advantage through the first two quarters was just five. At the end of the first quarter, Michigan State led 14-12; those two extra Spartan points became crucial, as both teams scored 12 points in the second quarter.
Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led all scorers with 11 points at the half and Tori Jankoska had 10 for the Spartans. Neither team shot particularly well from the field in the opening two frames, with Maryland (considered the home team) shooting just 27 percent and Michigan State 38 percent.
The Spartans led for the beginning part of the third quarter before a jumper by Maryland's Malina Howard knotted it at 30-30 with 6:29 remaining in the frame. The Terps then used their momentum to maintain a lead for the rest of the quarter, with four consecutive free throws by Walker-Kimbrough extending the difference.
Tierney Pfirman also hit back-to-back baskets for the Terps in the third, stretching the Maryland lead to 40-32 with about three minutes left in the quarter.
A three from the Terps' Brene Moseley with 9:48 to go in the fourth quarter gave Maryland a 45-36 edge, their largest lead to that point.
Pfirman squared up and nailed a jumper with about six and a half minutes remaining then took a feed from Moseley and finished a layup on the next possession to put it at 51-38, Terps, and force a Spartan timeout.
Aerial Powers swiped a steal and got to the foul line on the other end where she made two, bringing her Spartans within 11 at 51-40, Maryland, with slightly less than five minutes to go in the game. She would score again with less than a minute remaining, as would teammate Jasmine Hines, but their efforts fell short as the clock expired and the Terps sealed the victory.
"We didn't want to let up," Walker-Kimbrough said after the game. "They're a great team. I know sometimes people will pull the ball out and let the clock out, but we wanted to continue to put pressure on them, continue to stay aggressive. And that was a great feeling. All of our hard work is paying off. But we're far from over."
Maryland's offense dominated in the closing frame, outscoring the Spartans 18-8. The Terps also improved their shooting percentage in the second half to finish at 35 percent to Michigan State's 32 percent for the game.
"I think our experience in this game really helped us," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "I'm glad that it was a game that we had to fight through in terms of getting us ready for the tournament."
Walker-Kimbrough (a game-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds) and Brionna Jones (10 points, 14 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles for the Terps, Jones' marking her third of the tournament.
Jankoska finished with 12 points and eight rebounds to lead the Spartans while Powers finished with eight points and seven rebounds.