GREENSBORO, N.C. — Alyssa Thomas did it all for No. 6 Maryland. She scored, she rebounded, she blocked a key shot — and she delivered the Terrapins another Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Thomas scored a career-high 29 points and rejected a shot in the final minute that helped preserve the Terrapins' 68-65 victory over No. 15 Georgia Tech on Sunday in the ACC tournament title game.
"What more can I say about the play of Alyssa Thomas?" Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "Her will to win, I've never coached a more competitive player."
Lynetta Kizer had 11 points and Kim Rodgers added 10 to help the third-seeded Terrapins (28-4) claim their league-record 10th tournament title and second in four years. Kizer and Rodgers, two of the Terps' three seniors, were freshmen on the team that won the 2009 title.
"We made a promise to our seniors that we were going to send them out with a ring and a championship," said Thomas, named the tournament MVP. "To get them that was a special moment for us."
Tyaunna Marshall scored 18 of her 25 points in the second half and Sasha Goodlett added 20 points for the fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets (24-8), who were denied their first league championship.
They had one last chance to force overtime after Anjale Barrett's missed free throw with 9.4 seconds remaining kept it a three-point game. Georgia Tech called time with 5.6 seconds left and got the ball to Marshall, whose contested 22-footer failed to hit the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"It was just a play set up for our shooters," Marshall said. "Of course, they're shooters, so [the Terrapins] are guarding them heavy. Time ticking down, we had to get a shot off, the best shot we could."
That gave the league's automatic NCAA berth to Maryland, which became the lowest seeded team to win the tournament since Clemson did it as a No. 4 seed in 1999.
The victory capped a pretty good week for Thomas — who was selected to the all-ACC first team, then became just the second sophomore in ACC history to earn its player of the year award. She scored 18 points in both the quarterfinals and semifinals before scoring the most points in an ACC championship game since Duke's Monique Currie finished with 30 in 2002.
"All of the other stuff wasn't as important as getting the championship," Thomas said.
The Yellow Jackets gave themselves plenty of chances down the stretch of this one, after erasing a seven-point deficit with an 11-2 run. They led 63-61 on Marshall's free throw with 2:05 left, but Kizer tied it on the Terps' next trip downcourt by hitting a layup in the post and Barrett added the go-ahead layup with just more than a minute remaining.
Then came the sequence that may haunt Georgia Tech. Marshall missed a jumper in the lane, Goodlett came up empty on a layup and Chelsea Riggins had her tying layup blocked by Thomas with about 30 seconds left.
After Thomas made it a four-point game by hitting two free throws with 22.7 seconds left, Marshall added two foul shots with 12.3 seconds remaining to pull the Yellow Jackets to 67-65. Barrett hit her first free throw, but missed the second to give Georgia Tech one final shot.
When it missed, Maryland had its seventh straight win and became the first team to beat Georgia Tech three times in a season since 2003-04.
The title game had an unfamiliar feel because for the first time since 1993 — when Virginia beat Maryland — none of the four North Carolina-based schools reached the championship game. The top two seeds, No. 5 Duke and No. 7 Miami, were knocked out in consecutive quarterfinals, and that left the Terrapins as the clear favorite before they had even played their opener.
They took advantage, rolling past Virginia in the quarterfinals before dispatching Wake Forest in the semis to make it to their 13th championship game. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, took care of two local teams on its way to its second title-game appearance, edging North Carolina before routing N.C. State.
"I'm really proud of the way they came out night after night and stepped up on the defensive end," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. "The way we play defensively, it's really hard to play consecutive games — back to back to back — and to do it at a very high level is almost impossible. And I thought that, for three days consecutively, my team stepped up and played defensively as well as any team I've ever seen three nights in a row, playing 94 feet for 40 minutes."
Early on, Thomas singlehandedly tried to will Maryland to the title, scoring 13 of her team's first 17 points. Then the Yellow Jackets hit nine of 10 shots during a 5½-minute stretch that spanned the halves — including Marshall's 3 at the halftime buzzer that pulled them within 29-27.