RALEIGH, N.C. — After entering halftime of its NCAA tournament first round contest against Princeton on Friday, the Maryland women’s basketball team clung to a five-point lead, shooting just 35.7 percent from the field.
Out of the break, however, the Terps got creative on offense. Their inventiveness led to a 77-55 victory over the Tigers.
On Maryland’s first possession of the second half, guard Eleanna Christinaki dished a behind-the-back pass to set up a wide-open layup for forward Stephanie Jones. Less than two minutes later, guard Channise Lewis pulled off a no-look assist, giving guard Kaila Charles an easy score near the bucket. The plays keyed an 8-0 run to open the third quarter that forced a timeout.
“[It] definitely [sparked the team] because it was going into a timeout after that and everybody was just hyping me up and hyping Kaila up,” Lewis said. “Kaila wasn’t even expecting the pass.”
Charles led the way with 20 points, while Christinaki chipped in with 16 to propel the No. 5-seed Terps.
“We started sluggish and really knew that we couldn’t have that type of start, especially if we wanted to win,” Charles said. “We were not locked in all the way and once we figured that out, we started to pull away.”
One possession after forcing a 10-second backcourt violation, Maryland again attacked No. 12-seed Princeton with a full-court press. The Tigers, with nowhere to go, were forced into calling their first timeout just two minutes into the contest.
Coach Brenda Frese shouted and pumped both fists as she greeted her players as they left the court. The Terps forced another backcourt violation after the break.
Frese said the aggressive start gave the Terps a big advantage and “really gets us going.”
“We knew they really wanted to slow down the game and so for us to really impose our will and play the speed we wanted to, we knew that we needed ball pressure,” Confroy said. “I thought we had great success with that early.”
Princeton, which has shot about 43 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range this season, was held to 37.7 percent overall and 20 percent from beyond the arc on Friday.
While Maryland barely gave Princeton an inch on defense, the Terps found plenty of room at the other end from beyond the arc. Guard Eleanna Christinaki nailed a triple about a minute into the game before guard Kristen Confroy hit two more to give the Terps an early 9-2 lead.
Charles poured in 14 of her 20 points in the second half as the Terps outscored the Tigers, 46-31, over the final 20 minutes of action. Frese said Charles was patient and allowed the game to come to her before she took a hold of it.
“[Charles is] always in takeover mode,” Lewis said. “She really took over this game.”
The Terps will face No. 4-seed North Carolina State in the second round on Sunday.
Frese said there are still areas to improve before that matchup. Confroy singled out a Princeton layup with four seconds left in the first half as something Frese was unhappy with.
“March is a fun time to be able to put together everything you’ve learned over the course of the season,” Confroy said. “[We’re] continuing to take things from this game, good and bad, and continuing to fine-tune things to get ready for Sunday.”