GREENVILLE, S.C. – Facing an obvious disadvantage in size, Maryland had no choice against South Carolina in the Elite Eight. The Terrapins had to play with intense physicality and extreme aggression.
The fouls piled up for the Terps, but the points did not. As Maryland’s starters sat on the bench in foul trouble for lengthy stretches of the crucial contest, South Carolina asserted itself and demanded the game be played on its terms. After all, the second-seeded Terps were facing the No. 1 Gamecocks just 97 miles from their home gym.
In the end, Maryland was unable to pull off an improbable upset over undefeated South Carolina. The Gamecocks won their 42nd straight game, topping the Terps 86-75 to advance to their third-straight Final Four.
“You know, just super, super proud of this team. I thought you saw the mentality to come out and punch first,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought we were really confident… Just incredibly proud of this team and for leaving it out there for the 40 minutes.”
As the Terps tried to fight, scrap and claw their way towards a different outcome, they were whistled for a season-high 26 fouls. South Carolina shot 16-of-26 from the free throw line.
“We were really physical, because apparently they were getting all the foul calls. That just shows we have heart, we have grit, and just because they’re taller doesn’t mean we can’t bang,” Maryland guard Diamond Miller said. “Clearly, we needed to be more physical, I guess, on the offensive side, because every time they hit us, nothing was called.”
Mighty South Carolina was led by its 6-foot-4 All-American senior center Aliyah Boston, who bulldozed her way to 22 points and 10 rebounds in an imposing performance. Gamecocks guard Zia Cooke added 18 points and Brea Beal had 16.
In what was presumably her final game in a Maryland uniform, Diamond Miller finished with 24 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks – an admirable effort by the 10th-all-time leading scorer in program history. Fellow senior Abby Meyers, who is out of eligibility, scored all of her 14 points in the first half and fouled out with seven minutes to play. Sophomore Shyanne Sellers chipped in 11 points, six assists.
Maryland fell behind by six points early on as Sellers and Miller both picked up early fouls and went to the bench, but the Terps remained locked-in and started what turned into a 14-2 run to take a six-point lead of their own. South Carolina didn’t make a field goal in the final four minutes of the first quarter, missing all seven of its shot attempts.
For Maryland, a team that likes to play at an incredibly fast pace, it was exactly the start it wanted. The Terps outscored the Gamecocks 10-0 in the first quarter on fast break points and points off turnovers.
But then the pace of the game flipped completely in the second quarter. Fans of the Gamecocks roared as South Carolina outscored Maryland 23-9 across the second 10 minutes of the game, which saw the Terps rack up nine fouls and the Gamecocks take 15 shots from the charity stripe.
“Maryland came out and played extremely fast, just moving the ball up and down the floor. They were extremely physical, and I thought it just took us a while to get our footing, to really make adjustments to how they were playing us,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “And once we did, we basically just fought aggression with aggression, because they were really aggressive.”
The Terps trailed by eight at intermission, and that was with Sellers and Miller playing a combined 12 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
“I thought the game was lost in the second quarter,” Frese said. “The foul trouble, the amount of times throughout the game that they were in the bonus really impacted our play. But you can see their size, their length, their depth wears you out as the game continues on.”
But the same trend continued in the third quarter. Meyers picked up her third and fourth fouls and the Gamecocks kept padding their lead, jumping ahead by as much as 15 points. That lead grew to 18 points in the fourth quarter as Faith Masonius also fouled out.
Key for South Carolina was its ability to totally dominate on the glass, outrebounding Maryland 48-26. The Gamecocks also outscored the Terps 23-7 in second-chance points.
“Look, they’re trees, they’re huge. So, we had to do all we could do to try to get them out of the paint,” said Masonius, who was often matched up with Boston. “And unfortunately, the ref just kept calling that a foul. When you have all those pieces in foul trouble, you always obviously have that in the back of your mind and can’t truly play the way you want to play.”
While the loss will sting a bit for Maryland, the bright spot is that three of its top five scorers — Sellers, Masonius and Lavender Briggs — all have eligibility left, providing a solid returning core for Frese to build on for next season.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Masonius, who has two years of eligibility left. “Being able to have that year under our belt, continuing to build on that chemistry and the way we play together. If this is where we are, imagine what next year will bring.”
Mitchell Northam is a journalist based in North Carolina. His work has appeared in USA TODAY, Sports Illustrated and SB Nation, and he is the author of the book “High School Basketball on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: A Shore Hoops History.”