After Kristi Toliver drained a 3-pointer to give Maryland a 20-point cushion midway through the second half of Sunday’s game, she turned and smiled to the crowd as it erupted for the Terrapins‘ most popular player.
It was a familiar sight for the Comcast Center faithful as No. 12 Maryland cruised to a 96-79 win over Virginia Tech for its 28th consecutive victory at home.
The Terps’ stars led the way. Toliver produced a vintage performance, pouring in 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting that included a career-high eight 3-pointers. In the process, she passed 1,700 points for her career. Fellow senior Marissa Coleman added 21 to reach a milestone as well, passing the 1,800-point mark for her career.
It was finally the complete effort coach Brenda Frese was looking for from the Terps (15-3, 3-1 ACC), who played uneven halves in a loss to No. 4 Duke and a choppy win over Clemson last week.
“It says a lot about the character of our team to be able to come off the stretch that we just had - the week on the road - and to be able to come out and play with that kind of energy and intensity,” Frese said.
Maryland seemed to be on its way to another lackadaisical half as Virginia Tech (8-9, 0-4) led after the game’s first 10 minutes. Despite being winless in conference play, the Hokies entered a confident group after nearly upsetting Duke on Friday. They effectively employed their zone to slow down Maryland’s offense and shot well enough to stay in the game at first.
But once Virginia Tech’s shots stopped falling with regularity, the Terps were able to push the tempo to a speed of their liking. And when the Terps finally solved Virginia Tech’s zone defense, they overwhelmed the Hokies.
“I thought our defense is what really got us going into a rhythm with transition, and then [that led to] spreading the floor, looking for our teammates and really giving them easy looks in the flow of our offense,” Frese said.
Maryland turned every Hokies miss into a fast-break opportunity. Even if an easy layup wasn’t available, the Terps were able to find open shooters as Virginia Tech scrambled to organize its defense.
The result was a 13-for-28 (46.4 percent) shooting night from beyond the arc for the Terps and 53.2 percent shooting overall.
“In the first half, we played a little bit slower than usual,” Toliver said. “That was obviously playing into their hands, but I think once we got a feel for their zone and the angles that they were cutting off and certain things like that, we were able to make ball fakes and get in the middle and swing the ball to get open looks.”
With the Hokies’ game plan now neutralized, Maryland was able to take advantage of its speed and athleticism to gain control. Six Terps scored during an 18-5 run that gave them a 40-29 lead with 5:22 remaining in the first half, but the Hokies trimmed the deficit to 46-38 by halftime.
Maryland padded its advantage with an 11-4 run to open the second half, but behind Lindsay Biggs (career-high 25 points) and Utahya Drye (20), Virginia Tech kept fighting to stay in the game. But then Toliver hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 81-60 with 8:23 remaining, effectively ending all hopes Virginia Tech had at a comeback.
“It’s not surprising to us anymore. She’s the best shooter in the country,” Coleman said of Toliver’s long-range accuracy. “When she knocks down a couple, you just have to find a way to get her the ball because when she gets hot, there’s nobody that can stop her.
“There was one point I got yelled at by one of the assistants for not rebounding, but I put my hands up because I knew it was going in. There’s no need to assert that energy when I know it was going in.”