COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — It’s rare that the No. 8 team in the nation finds solace in defeat, let alone the second in a row following a 14-game winning streak.
Yet, after Maryland rallied from a 22-point deficit before falling 87-83 to No. 2 Notre Dame on Monday night, Terrapins coach Brenda Frese wasn’t about to sulk.
“Like I told them in the locker room, I loved our fight,” Frese said. “I thought we showed a lot of character, especially when we were down, to be able to come back and scratch and claw and give ourselves a chance in the second half.”
The Irish (19-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) appeared on their way to another easy victory after building a 41-19 lead late in the first half. But Maryland (16-3, 4-2) stormed back behind senior star Alyssa Thomas to go up 64-63 with 10 minutes left.
Notre Dame answered with a 10-2 run and the Terrapins never got even after that, although they did cut the gap to 75-74 with 3:31 to play.
“We lost this game in the first half,” Frese said. “Notre Dame came in and showed their experience, showed their poise early and late down the stretch, hitting big shot after big shot.”
Kayla McBride drilled a long jumper as the shot clock was about to expire to make it 87-83 with 12.2 seconds to go, the last in a series of clutch shots by the Irish in their closest game of the season.
Thomas had 29 points and 12 rebounds, her NCAA-leading 17th double-double. Thomas scored 19 after halftime, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Maryland from absorbing its second straight defeat following a loss at Virginia last week.
Jewell Loyd scored a career-high 31 points and Kayla McBride had 20 for the Irish, who previously hadn’t yielded more than 76 points in a game.
“We made some big shots when we had to. We certainly weren’t going to get any stops,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That was the only way we were going to win, to outscore them.”
Two of the Terrapins’ three losses this season have come at home against the top two teams in the country: Connecticut and Notre Dame.
This one was much closer than the 72-55 bashing administered by UConn in mid-November.
Maryland cut the deficit to 12 at the break and opened the second half with a 14-7 run to make it 54-49. Thomas capped the surge with 10 straight points, including a pair of three-point plays.
“We ended the half strong, and we knew we had to come out strong in the second half,” Thomas said. “It was all about bringing energy.”
It was 58-51 before Thomas made another three-point play, giving her 12 points in a span of 3:06.
Thomas gave the Terrapins their only lead, sinking a stop-and-pop jumper in the lane to make it 64-63.
McBride answered with a driving layup, Michaela Mabrey made two foul shots and McBride hit a 3-pointer to put Notre Dame ahead 70-64.
Maryland kept it close, but the Irish seemingly always had an answer. McBride hit a 3-pointer for a 78-74 lead, a three-point play by Loyd made it 81-76 with 2:24 to go, and Loyd followed her own miss with a layup for an 85-81 advantage with 1:03 remaining.
“She’s so talented,” Frese said. “She hurt us with her athleticism. Obviously an extremely difficult matchup for us.”
The Irish shot 67 percent from the field (18 for 27) in taking a 47-35 halftime lead.
“Credit to them,” Thomas said. “They came out ready to play and took us out early.”
Although Maryland started 3 for 11 from the field, Notre Dame led by only 9-8 after 4 1/2 minutes. That was before McBride scored on a drive and popped a 3-pointer to spark a 14-2 spurt that put the Irish up by 13.
Minutes later, Loyd made a three-point play, stole a Maryland pass and hit two foul shots to make it 30-14. At that point, Thomas was 1 for 8 from the field.
It was 32-19 before Loyd, Lindsay Allen and Ariel Braker made successive layups and Mabrey drilled a 3 for a 41-19 advantage.
Maryland closed the half with a 16-6 run during which McGraw twice called timeouts in an effort to stem the momentum swing.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)