Maryland women’s basketball forward Stephanie Jones knocked down a deep step-back jumper two minutes into Sunday’s game against Nebraska, giving the No. 13 Terps a 5-3 edge. They led for the next 37 minutes.
Then, with 49 seconds left in the game, Nebraska guard Hannah Whitish drained a 3-pointer to put the Huskers ahead, 75-74.
But Jones gave Maryland the lead again by draining a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left. The Terps held onto that advantage for good, fending off a late Huskers comeback to win their final regular-season game, 77-75, and ending their three-game skid just in time for the Big Ten tournament.
“Our energy as a team was sensational,” coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought we got back to really playing, overall, Maryland basketball. When you talk about being aggressive, defending, rebounding, getting out in transition. That’s who we are.”
Guard Kaila Charles scored a game-high 19 points, one of four Terps to finish in double figures.
Jones’ early bucket, an out-of-character shot for the sophomore who usually plays closer to the basket, set the tone for Maryland.
Stout defense — including four first-half steals — helped the Terps (23-6, 12-4 Big Ten) limit Nebraska (20-9, 11-5) in the first half. Maryland’s aggression extended to the offensive end as well: At halftime, the Terps had secured nine offensive rebounds and turned those into 15 second-chance points.
Like the first time these two teams played in February, Huskers 6-foot-5 center Kate Cain got in foul trouble early, which opened things up for the Terps down low.
“Our aggressiveness allowed us to be able to get her out of the game,” Frese said. “[Cain is] a really, really talented player. Our aggressiveness to attack off the bounce and get to the free-throw line — 23 attempts was really key for this game.”
Three minutes into the third quarter, guard Kristen Confroy — on her Senior Day — picked off a pass from Huskers forward Rachel Blackburn and threaded the ball through to guard Eleanna Christinaki. The junior finished a layup through contact and converted the free throw to complete the three-point play, part of her 13 points on the afternoon.
Christinaki furiously pumped her fist, displaying the emotion the Terps showed throughout the bounce back performance.
But Nebraska ended the third period on a 14-5 run and continued to chip into Maryland’s lead, eventually pulling ahead on Whitish’s triple. After Jones’ free throws, Xfinity Center erupted in “defense” chants, and Jones responded by stuffing guard Jasmine Cincore’s layup attempt with 14 seconds left.
“You’ve just got to play as hard as you can,” Jones said. “But, at the end, especially being down one in this game, [it’s] just doing whatever you can to give our team the best chance to win.”
Charles made one of two free throws to put Maryland up by two, and Whitish’s attempted game-winner in the closing seconds didn’t fall, ensuring the Terps a victory ahead of next weekend’s Big Ten tournament.
Guard Ieshia Small, the other senior honored alongside Confroy, threw the ball high up in the air as time expired, celebrating victory in her final home game at Maryland.
However, she maintained it wouldn’t be her final victory as a Terp.
“It’s not over,” Small said, speaking slowly and shaking her head. “We’ve still got a lot to go.”