INDIANAPOLIS — Maryland women’s basketball guard Kristen Confroy left the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court to a large ovation with 39 seconds left in the final conference tournament game of her career.
But the cheers did little to soften the blow of her first conference tournament loss, and the senior cried as she hugged coach Brenda Frese on the sideline.
Each of Maryland’s first three seasons in the Big Ten ended with the Terps cutting down nets, crowned the conference’s best. On Sunday night, Ohio State denied Maryland’s attempt to make it four.
The Terps’ monopoly on the Big Ten tournament ended at the hands of the Buckeyes, by way of a 79-69 loss.
“We’ve had a lot of success,” Frese said. “Sometimes, you know, it’s just not your night.”
After the Terps pulled within two points with 5:59 remaining, a step-back 3-pointer from Buckeyes star guard Kelsey Mitchell stretched the deficit to eight points with three minutes to go, effectively ending all chances of Maryland completing the comeback.
Unlike the first time the two squared off on Jan. 22, when the Terps ran the Buckeyes out of Xfinity Center with a 99-69 drubbing, this iteration of the Big Ten premier women’s basketball rivalry of recent years started evenly.
Both No. 2-seed Maryland (25-7) and No. 1-seed Ohio State (27-6) prefer playing up-tempo, and that was on display early in the contest. Each squad collected rebounds and quickly went in transition, with the outcomes varying for both sides.
However, two 3-pointers from guard Kristen Confroy, including one eight seconds shy of the first-quarter buzzer, gave Maryland some momentum and a five-point cushion.
Then, it all unraveled for Maryland.
After a made jumper by guard Ieshia Small about two minutes into the second period, Ohio State embarked on a 12-0 run. During the stretch, Maryland went scoreless for nearly three-and-a-half minutes, missing seven straight field goal attempts.
Guard Kaila Charles said the spell consisted of both Ohio State getting hot and Maryland lagging a bit on defense.
The Buckeyes outscored the Terps, 27-9, in the second quarter. Maryland trailed 44-31 at halftime and had been outrebounded, 30-19, at halftime.
Momentum shifted back to Maryland in the third, as the Terps finished the frame on a 12-2 run, aided by eight points from Confroy, who finished with 17. That run helped the Terps, who trailed by as many as 18 in the period, remain within striking distance entering the fourth quarter.
“A lot of teams, after that second quarter, would have given up,” Frese said. “You continued to see the character and culture in our locker room, that we’re never going to quit fighting for each other.”
A layup from Charles — who scored a team-high 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but went 9-for-24 from the field — brought Maryland within 61-59 with about six minutes remaining and forced Ohio State to call timeout.
However, 20 seconds later, Mitchell (game-high 25 points) pulled up from long range and drained a triple, and Maryland never recovered.
The Buckeyes steadily pulled away in the final minutes, handing the Terps their first-ever loss in the Big Ten tournament. Frese said she was still proud of her team because, after losing several key players from last season, nobody expected the Terps to have the success they did.
Maryland is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation and are a lock to make the NCAA tournament, although it’s unclear whether they’ll host the opening weekend.
“Every game, we grew up,” Confroy said. “A poor second quarter came back to bite us and so [we need to] find that consistency throughout the game. I think we can take it to March.”