After losing a big Atlantic Coast Conference showdown with the No. 19 Virginia Cavaliers in their last game (89-81), the 13th-ranked Maryland Lady Terrapins had to rebound against another worthy opponent.
In Monday night’s matchup against No. 15 Florida State Seminoles that went down to the wire, senior guard Kristi Toliver lifted her team to a thrilling 72-71 victory in Tallahassee, Florida.
With just over five seconds on the game clock, several Florida State players watched a little-used freshman reserve make a layup off a missed shot to give the Lady Seminoles a two-point lead.
Pandemonium erupted, and a clear view from the Lady Seminoles’ bench, showed orange and blue towels waving frantically.
It was time to celebrate.
“Not so fast,” says Ms. Kristi Toliver.
She answered the Lady Terrapins’ prayers, and went the length of the floor to nail an off-balance three-point shot, from the right side at the buzzer.
This sequence of events mirrored Toliver’s most famous shot in her storied ACC career, when she hit a similar three-pointer against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2006 NCAA title game.
It was over just like that.
Toliver kept her hands in the air as she watched the ball sail through the net.
The game officials went to look at the replay, to make sure the ball left her hands before the horn sounded.
When the basket was ruled good, it was the Lady Terrapins’ turn to dance.
“That was better than the Super Bowl last night, the way the game went down to the wire, two great teams competing,” said a jubilant Maryland coach Brenda Frese. “We love those kind of battles.”
Maryland (17-4, 5-2 ACC) handed Florida St. its first conference loss in front of 2,885 fans at Tucker Center.
The Seminoles were talking trash the whole game, befitting a team who had entered this contest, the winners of nine straight games.
During this streak, they had also beaten three straight nationally ranked opponents.
With the stinging memory of the Virginia game still fresh in their minds, the Lady Terrapins never gave up fighting.
The Seminoles did a great job of defending Maryland’s two seniors, Toliver (15 points) and Marissa Coleman (15 points).
Showing their veteran leadership, they routinely found open looks for other teammates, dishing the ball once they were thwarted from making a play on their own.
Coleman and Toliver combined for 11 of Maryland’s 14 assists.
Other notable scorers for Maryland, were freshman center Lonetta Kizer (former Potomac, VA High School All-Met Player of the year) who netted 14 points, and junior forward Demauria Liles (10 points).
“Fortunately for us, we had other guys step up and make plays,” said Toliver, who attempted just seven shots in the game. “We knew if Marissa and I weren’t able to have those easy looks, we’d be able to create for our teammates.”
Since Brenda Frese has been at the helm, a benchmark of Lady Terrapin basketball consists of spreading the ball around.
Do not force shots, if they are not there.
Protect the basketball at all times.
Her players heeded her call and stole a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Florida St. played admirably as well.
They matched Maryland basket-for-basket.
Neither team led by more than five points.
There were 14 ties and 14 lead changes.
It was a game destined to be decided by who had the ball last.
When sophomore Courtney Ward drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc with 2:02 left, Florida St. grabbed the largest lead of the second half, 68-65.
On the ensuing possession, Coleman and Toliver had three-point attempts spin out of the basket and Lonetta Kizer fouled out of the game.
The Seminoles pushed their lead to 69-65 when freshman Cierra Bravard made one of two free throw attempts with 1:08 to play.
Marissa Coleman added a nice 15-footer, and caused a Florida St. turnover on an inbounds pass.
Toliver picked up the loose ball and was fouled immediately.
There were 24.6 seconds on the game clock.
She made two foul shots, and the score was tied for the 14th and final time at 69 apiece.
Cierra Bravard got the rebound for Florida St. off of a missed three-point shot by Tanae Davis-Cain (15 three-point attempts) and scored on a put-back with 4.9 seconds left.
Of course the rest, as they say, is history.
After the game, Kristi Toliver was asked if she thought about giving up the ball to another teammate to take the final shot.
“Well, let’s be real here,” Toliver said rather slyly. “I saw Marissa I couldn’t gauge how close her defender was, but as soon as I was around the three-point line, I knew it was going to have to go up. I didn’t know I was going to be falling and shooting at the same time though.”
Maryland’s next game is versus the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Feb. 5.
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