By Ryan Gregory | @Ryan_Gregory_
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Maryland secured its place in its fourth consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship with a 66-53 win over Nebraska. The second-seeded Terrapins will meet Ohio State Sunday night with a chance to become the first team to win four consecutive Big Ten tournaments.
Maryland, 26-6, extended its perfect record in the conference tournament to 11-0 since joining the Big Ten in the 2014-15 season. The 11th consecutive victory tied Purdue’s record streak from 1998 through the 2001 semifinals.
Maryland and Ohio State have been the top two seeds in each of the past two years, but they have not met in the conference tournament since the Terrapins won the 2015 championship game. Ohio State lost to Michigan State in a 2016 semifinal and was beaten by Purdue in a semifinal last year.
The Terrapins were able to overcome Nebraska’s frustrating defense, which had held opponents to a conference-best 38.5 field goal percentage. Maryland was held 15 points beneath its average of 81.7 points per game. Sophomore Kaila Charles, who was averaging a team-high 18 points per game, was held to four points on 1-6 shooting in the first half. Charles scored 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting.
Junior Brianna Fraser and senior Iesha Small came off the bench to fill the offensive void. Fraser scored a team-high 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting, and Small added 13 on 6-for-8 shooting.
“I think it’s really important,” Fraser said of the contributions off the Maryland bench. “Our teammates, they just feed us a lot of energy. Even if they aren’t scoring, they feed us the ball.”
Junior Eleanna Christinaki scored 14 points with 16 rebounds, six more than her previous career high.
Maryland also excelled defensively, holding Nebraska to 31.4-percent shooting. Janay Morton, who scored 15 points, was the only Nebraska player to reach double figures. Hannah Whitish was held to six points shot made just six of 23 shots.
A combination of defensive effort and bench scoring resulted in a 10-point Terrapin lead going into halftime. It appeared clear early in the second half that Maryland’s scoring would be too much for Nebraska. Kate Cain, a Big Ten all-defensive selection known for her shot blocking, was forced to take a tentative approach after she was charged with her fourth foul with 1:44 to go in the third quarter.
Maryland’s 8-0 run to finish the third quarter, with six of its points coming at the foul line, gave the Terrapins a 47-32 lead.
The Cornhuskers did not reach 10 field goals until 9:13 remained in the game. Maryland will need that kind of defensive effort to stifle Ohio State and its scoring offense of 85.3 points per game, third-best in the nation.
“I think we’ve continued to find a way this year with this team,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. “The success that we’ve had is when we continue to play within ourselves, so we have to continue to do that on both ends of the floor.”
Small was more direct. “We’re coming there to win,” she said.