Maryland women's basketball forward Stephanie Jones' free throw with about four minutes remaining in the first quarter garnered a more enthusiastic reaction from the crowd than it might have on another day.
For approximately 6,000 local elementary school students at Xfinity Center for Maryland's annual "Field Trip Day" on Thursday, every basket made by the Terps was exhilarating.
Jones' free throw carried some added significance. It gave the No. 15 Terps a 15-14 lead over Niagara and sparked an 11-3 run to end the first quarter. The run ensured Maryland wouldn't trail again, as the Terps defeated the Purple Eagles, 92-65.
Jones and guard Ieshia Small, helped on by the crowd of children, notched career-highs in points with 21 and 18, respectively.
"I was just taking advantage of the moment because I'm probably not going to have another game like that in my life," Small said. "It was exciting to see all the kids screaming. We had to yell louder than we normally do because we can't really hear because they're screaming for ice cream and stuff like that."
For a moment, it appeared the Terps would suffer from the same early game struggled that had plagued them so far this season. The Purple Eagles led at the under-five minute media timeout, 14-13. However, Jones' free throws and the energy provided by the visiting children allowed the Terps to break out.
Niagara had already scored 10 points in the paint at the time of that timeout. They only scored 14 more for the rest of the game.
Jones said coach Brenda Frese challenged Maryland's post players to be better after halftime.
"[She said to] defend, just play hard, play with energy like the rest of the team," Jones said. "That's what we did. We came out with a lot more energy than we did in the first half."
The Terps were able to limit the Purple Eagles' opportunities down low as the game progressed, stuffing eight shots and grabbing 12 more rebounds than the visitors.
In their previous two games, the Terps allowed a combined 31 second-chance points. On Thursday, they allowed just one, highlighting their dominance inside.
It helped that Niagara seemingly rested two of its "best players" later in the game, Frese said. She was adamant that, while the Terps ran away with the contest, Thursday wasn't their best performance.
"I'm not sure that was our defense," Frese said. "I think she was resting her post kids for their next game. It was a huge area that we have to be able to improve upon."
Despite only leading by eight at halftime, the Terps remained distanced from the Purple Eagles. Their smallest advantage in the second half was six points, and their largest was 29, achieved by a Kristen Confroy 3-pointer with less than one minute remaining.
For the second time this season, the Terps had five players score more than 10 points, which Charles believes bodes well for them in the future.
"It just shows that we need everybody to be a part of the team win," Charles said. "For us to be successful, everybody has to be ready when their number is called. It's good to have multiple people in double digits because it's a good team win."