In a must-win game for No. 13 Maryland women's basketball, the air in the arena seemed to slowly trickle out following a late drought by the Terps.
No. 10 Indiana — who just as equally needed a win — cut its game-long deficit to four points as the three minute mark approached. Diamond Miller made a triad of crucial plays down the stretch to prevent the Hoosiers from taking over, but a 3-pointer from Nicole Cardano-Hillary made it a one-point game with 35 seconds to go.
Enter Katie Benzan. All game long, Benzan had the ball on a string despite stingy defense by Cardano-Hillary. Her vision and ball-handling coupled with her tenacity and scrappiness embodied Maryland's objective in its monumental rematch.
As the shot clock wound down, Benzan shook her defender, shielded the trailer and hit the game-sealing floater. Indiana's last shot at sending it to overtime fell short, allowing Maryland to snag a top-4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a 67-64 win.
After starting the new year with a 63-70 overtime loss to Indiana, the Terps finished the regular season winners of nine of its last ten.
"I can't thank our crowd enough tonight for being our sixth man," coach Brenda Frese. "We talked about it before the game, what an empty feeling last year was not playing in front of fans and we really wanted to feed off their energy and they brought all of that tonight."
Both teams played at a furious pace to start, but it was Maryland who obtained the early advantage thanks to its inspired defensive approach.
"After [Cardano-Hillary] reached, I knew that the next decision was reading the help," Benzan said. "Their bigs didn't help up because Angel was killing 'em all night, so then I just read the defense and floated it right up."
Shyanne Sellers had two steals via strips in the paint, a testament to the scrappiness on the interior shown by the Terps. Indiana finished the quarter with six turnovers.
Maryland's pace was boosted by its tremendous defense — a common trend this season — prompting a 10-0 run. It started with a between-the-legs step back 3-pointer by Miller, which segued into a media timeout following another Indiana turnover the other way.
After Angel Reese converted inside to make it 11-6, Benzan drilled a step back three to bolster the team's advantage. Reese then finished with contact after a minute of back-and-forth play, giving Maryland a 16-6 lead.
The Hoosiers broke the run on the ensuing possession, but a masterful play from Benzan turned into an emphatic corner three by Sellers.
Heavy pressure on Benzan from Cardano-Hillary caused the crafty point guard to travel the length of the three-point arc with razor thin spacing. Without many options, Benzan dumped it off to Sellers in the corner, ending the quarter on a high note.
Sellers was the main standout for the Terps in the first half thanks to her end-to-end play. With Ashley Owusu out due to illness, the freshman had to eat a lot of minutes for the oft-shorthanded Terps. She delivered with timely offense and aggressive defense.
After Chloe Moore-McNeil and Aleksa Gulbe hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to make it a five-point game, Sellers stepped up on the offensive end.
At the 7:20 mark, she drew the double team before dishing it off to a cutting Reese for the and-one.
Another dime — this time to Chloe Bibby for a corner three with 3:37 left in the half — gave Maryland its largest lead of the night. Between the two assists from Sellers, her individual defense against ball screens and isolations set the tone as well.
"We knew they were going to be coming in on tire legs, which I thought showed late within the game," Frese said. "I definitely thought the mentality that we were able to display early was a big factor."
Despite Maryland’s sizable defensive effort, the Indiana offense began to gain some steam towards the end of the half. Following Bibby's three, a 9-2 run by the visiting Hoosiers shifted the momentum a bit, making it a 37-32 game at the break.
From the jump, Maryland ensured that the end-of-quarter slump wouldn't dictate its second half performance. An 8-2 run to start the third quarter brought the Terps lead back up to double-digits, largely due to 18 points and 10 rebounds from Reese.
But with 4:42 remaining in the quarter, a loose ball collision between Grace Berger and Reese roughed up Maryland's point forward. She exited through the tunnel covering her face with towels, which was later revealed to be because of a bloody cut on the bridge of her nose.
Reese's departure gave the Hoosiers a ripe opportunity to close the gap, but the Terps' offense stayed composed and hit some key shots to lessen the damage to a 13-8 end-of-quarter Indiana run.
Upon the start of the fourth quarter, Reese re-emerged from the locker room to a thunderous ovation — setting the stage for an exciting finish in College Park.
"I was just looking forward to being back on the court and doing whatever it takes to get through that fourth quarter," Reese said. "I just wanted to do whatever I could to win."
The Hoosiers had cut Maryland's lead to four by the end of the third, but after a stagnant few minutes, three straight trips down the court resulted in six points for the Terps.
With loads at stake for both sides, the two Big Ten foes went down to the final seconds. But as Cardano-Hillary’s last-second 3-pointer failed to reach the rim, it was Maryland that exited the Xfinity Center on a high note heading into the postseason.