COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP)Maryland’s 13th consecutive victory was assured long before coach Brenda Frese removed her four seniors and hugged each one of them as they approached the bench.
A feel-good night for the No. 7 Terrapins went precisely as planned. It began with Slovenia native Sara Vujacic sheepishly listening to her country’s national anthem as the crowd respectfully stood at attention, and ended with Maryland celebrating an 88-45 rout of Purdue.
Stephanie Jones scored 18 points and Shakira Austin had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Terps, who stayed atop the Big Ten with another blowout victory.
Beforehand, the crowd and Frese saluted seniors Jones, Vujacic, Kaila Charles and Blair Watson before their final regular-season game at home.
”I appreciate everything about this class,” Frese said. ”They’ve worked hard from Day 1, through injuries and adversity. You see their leadership every single day, for this team and this program.”
Charles contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds, Vujacic scored 10 and Watson anchored a rugged defense that forced 24 turnovers.
The Terrapins (24-4, 15-2) are tied in first place with Northwestern, which kept pace with a victory at Ohio State. The co-leaders have one game left: Maryland is at Minnesota and Northwestern hosts Illinois.
If the Wildcats and Terps finish deadlocked, they share the title but Maryland gets the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament via a tiebreaker. Northwestern and the Terrapins split the season series, so the next criteria is head-to-head record against third-place Iowa (Maryland went 1-1, Northwestern 0-1).
The Terrapins haven’t lost since Jan. 9 at Iowa. Their last five victories have come by an average of 34.4 points, and they remain one of the toughest teams in the nation to beat on their own floor.
”To be able to go 9-0 at home in conference play is quite an accomplishment for this team, given just how tough Big Ten play is,” Frese said.
Maryland dominated the inside against the Boilermakers, scoring 60 points in the paint and shooting a blistering 49.4% percent from the floor. The Terps also finished with a 49-34 rebounding advantage.
”They steal the ball and their points are from layups after layups after layups,” Boilermakers coach Sharon Versyp said.
Ae’Rianna Harris had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Purdue (17-12, 8-9). The Boilermakers shot 31% and had eight different players commit at least one turnover.
The sloppy play could be attributed greatly to the competition.
”They’re a dangerous team, and one of the best defensive teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Versyp said.
Maryland trailed 12-9 before closing the first quarter with a 10-0 run. It was 19-14 before Jones made three straight layups to up the margin to double-digits.
Purdue committed 15 turnovers and went 9 for 28 from the floor in the first half, which ended with the Terps holding a comfortable 35-22 lead.
Jones had 12 points at halftime on 6-for-8 shooting.
Austin made three baskets, Charles hit a couple of jumpers and Taylor Mikesell drilled a 3-pointer to fuel a 15-3 run at the start of the third quarter that made it 50-25.
Maryland outscored the Boilermakers 28-14 in the period for a 63-36 lead.
Vujacic’s parents were in attendance, an occasion enhanced by the playing of their own country’s national anthem – which caught Vujacic completely by surprise.
”This is a really special night for me,” the 5-foot-11 guard said. ”My parents are visiting the U.S.A. for the first time, so it was really special for me to have them by my side.”
Charles needs 52 points to become the sixth player in Maryland history to score 2,000. She also ranks in the Top 10 on the school list in rebounds, starts and free throws made.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
Harris became the 16th player in the history of the Purdue women’s program to reach the 1,500-point mark. Dominique Oden is already there, so the 2020 senior class is the second in Purdue history to have a pair of players with 1,500 career points.
Purdue concludes its regular season at home Saturday against Ohio State.
Maryland brings an 8-3 road record into the finale at Minnesota.
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25