COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Little steps.
After losing in the first round of the Patriot League tournament last year, Army won the league title this season. The reward was a first-round matchup in the NCAA tournament against a Maryland team that proved to be way too good for the 13th-seeded Black Knights.
After Army's 90-52 defeat on Sunday, coach Dave Magarity began looking ahead toward next year with the hope that the Black Knights might repeat as conference champs and get a more favorable seed.
"We only lose one senior, Jen Hazlett, but we have to get better," Magarity said. "We have to become a more balanced team. We can't rely on Kelsey Minato."
Minato scored 27 against the fourth-seeded Terrapins, but no one else reached double-figures for Army (25-8). The Black Knights got a combined three points from its front court, and the outcome was never in doubt after Maryland turned an 18-15 deficit into a 44-20 halftime lead.
"I expect to be back here next year," Magarity said. "Hopefully we learn from this."
With nearly 11 minutes elapsed, Army held a three-point lead over a team that spent most of the year in the Top 10.
Angered over the surprising development, Terrapins coach Brenda Frese called a timeout.
On the other bench, Magarity issued a warning: "I told our kids, you've got to brace yourself because they're going to be upset and they're going to come out angry."
The Terrapins (25-6) returned to score 29 of the final 31 points of the first half, including the last 20. Alyssa Thomas finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Lexie Brown scored 21.
Following Frese's timeout, Maryland changed its defense and came out with the confidence befitting a talented, deep squad playing on its home floor.
"It's like we woke up a beast," Minato said.
"It actually started with Alyssa. She gave a great, calming presence during the timeout that we were fine," Frese said. "We changed our defense; I thought some the switches that we made defensively really helped us. Then we were able to get going with our transition."
After Thomas capped a 9-0 spurt with two foul shots, Army got one free throw apiece from Minato and Aimee Oertner, the last with 4:56 left in the half.
Those would be the Black Knights' final points before halftime. Army went 10 minutes without a basket until Minato connected early in the second half to end the Black Knights' 0-for-10 stretch from the field.
It was 60-30 with 14:29 left, the Terrapins upped the margin to 41 points with 5:36 remaining.
"I thought that after we got the jitters out to start the game, we were able to show what separates us and makes us special," Frese said.
With her 25th double-double of the season, Thomas upped her career point total to 2,271 points — the most in school history by a man or woman. She passed Juan Dixon, who scored 2,269.
"For her to break the all-time record here at home is fitting," Frese said.
"She is one of the best players I have ever seen, in terms of her instincts and her ability," Magarity said. "She's just unbelievable."
Minato scored 18 after halftime after a 3-for-8 first half. Making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2006, Army went 7 for 22 from the floor during the pivotal first half and was outrebounded 25-12.
Hazlett scored nine points and finished 1 for 10 from beyond the arc.
"Maryland did a great job on defense, but a lot of my shots were pretty open," Hazlett said. "I just wasn't making shots today."
Neither were her teammates. The Black Knights shot 37 percent overall and were 9 for 27 from beyond the arc.