- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

COLLEGE PARK — An instant after the final buzzer sounded, Maryland whooped and hollered at midcourt, launching a celebration that seemed inevitable months earlier and improbable just three weeks ago.

The sixth-ranked Terrapins captured the Big Ten regular season title on Sunday, getting a career-high 29 points from Tierney Pfirman and 24 from Brionna Jones in a surprisingly lopsided 110-77 victory over Minnesota.

Maryland (27-3, 16-2 Big Ten) will enter the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed for a second consecutive season. The Terrapins closed with six consecutive wins to overtake No. 5 Ohio State, which dealt the Terrapins both of their league losses.

At the beginning of the season, Maryland was the overwhelming choice to win the conference crown. After a 94-86 defeat at Ohio State on Feb. 8, the Terrapins dropped into second place.

In the end, though, Maryland finished exactly where it expected.

“It’s just staying the course,” coach Brenda Frese said. “It’s not getting too high or too low. When you just try to get better every day, good things are in store for you.”

Coming off consecutive appearances in the Final Four, Maryland will almost certainly open the NCAA tournament at home next month.

That comes later. For now, the Terrapins want to savor the feeling of winning the Big Ten.

“This one’s special,” Frese said. “This one I’m going to remember for a long time. You couldn’t have scripted it any better for our seniors, to be able to send them out in a game of this fashion — a picture-perfect game in terms of how we were able to dominate.”

Rachel Banham, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, finished with 26 points for Minnesota (19-10, 11-7 Big Ten). Banham picked up her second foul late in the first quarter and contributed only nine points in the decisive first half, which ended with the Terrapins up, 52-34.

The Golden Gophers were coming off a 90-88 victory over Ohio State but could not pull off an encore against Maryland, which shredded the worst defensive team in the conference.

“Credit to Maryland. They came out with great enthusiasm and high energy,” coach Marlene Stollings said. “They were competing for a Big Ten championship today and I thought it showed from the jump. Just a well-oiled machine.”

After being honored before the game on Senior Day, the 6-foot-2 Pfirman easily eclipsed her previous career high of 17 points and grabbed a personal best 13 rebounds.

“It feels good,” Pfirman said. “I just kind of go with the flow, just go out and have fun and play.”

She had plenty of help from a Maryland team deep in talent. Jones missed only two shots, Shartori Walker-Kimbrough had 19 points and 11 rebounds and the Terrapins finished with a 53-23 advantage on the boards.

Minnesota went 2-for-8 with five turnovers while falling behind, 16-7. It was 25-23 early in the second quarter before Jones scored seven consecutive points to spark a 12-2 run that put the Terrapins up by 14.

Maryland went 1-for-12 beyond the arc in the first half, a stark contrast to its nation-leading 42 percent average. It didn’t matter, though, because the Terrapins held the Golden Gophers to 36 percent shooting and amassed a 29-14 advantage on the boards.

Any hope Minnesota had of making a comeback was dashed early in the third quarter when successive 3-pointers by Walker-Kimbrough and Kristen Confroy started a 10-0 spurt that put Maryland up, 68-41.

Minutes later, Pfirman connected from the beyond the arc to make it 82-49.

After the game, the team was presented the trophy for winning the conference title in a ceremony at midcourt.

“It feels awesome,” senior Chloe Pavlech said. “We definitely had a little bit of luck, but obviously this team meant a lot to the seniors and a lot to the team.”

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