Entering the Terps' matchup with No. 12 Ohio State on Monday, Maryland women's basketball guard Sarah Myers averaged 2.2 points per game. She'd shot 18.8 percent from 3-point range in her career.
But with the shot clock winding down and Maryland ahead 94-65 in the fourth quarter, she unloaded a long-range turnaround jumper. It bounced off the backboard and in. Myers beamed as she trotted back on defense. Guard Ieshia Small provided a bear hug when Myers crossed halfcourt. Guard Eleanna Christinaki waved her limbs wildly and screamed from the bench.
Maryland was expected to regress after All-Americans Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough graduated and National Freshman of the Year Destiny Slocum transferred. But the Terps had a blast in their 99-69 demolition of Ohio State, displaying the same on-court energy and levity that typified previous Brenda Frese teams.
It was the kind of demeanor a group possesses when it's confident in its ability to win multiple NCAA Tournament games, as the program has in five of the past six seasons. And after Maryland's all-around performance against the Buckeyes, a team it hadn't beaten since the 2014-15 campaign, it's time to embrace these Terps not only as exciting overachievers but also as legitimate postseason contenders.
With the win over the Buckeyes, Maryland took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. At 17-3 midway through its conference slate, the group is on track to post a similar record to last season, when it went 32-3 and earned a No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But after the roster overhaul, the Terps have found success in new ways. Last year, only Jones, Walker-Kimbrough and Slocum averaged double figures scoring. This season, six active players average at least 10 points per game. Plus, Maryland has elevated its 3-point shooting from 37.4 percent to 40.4 percent.
And despite losing the core of its 2016-17 unit, the Terps' in-game joy remains. For a young team defying preseason expectations, that lightheartedness is a powerful force. On Monday, it powered the program's most impressive win of the campaign.
"It's just great [to be a part of that]," leading scorer Kaila Charles said. "We love to see each other be successful, so when we're seeing everybody contributing to this big game … it just fueled us to play harder and play better."
When Christinaki swished her third consecutive jumper early in the first quarter, she held her right hand high in the air before excitedly bouncing up and down in place as the Buckeyes called timeout and trudged off the floor already trailing 8-2. Her 21 first-half points energized an Xfinity Center crowd of almost 8,000, putting the blowout victory in motion.
Christinaki's enthusiasm continued into the second half, even as she took a back seat on offense. She grinned along with Charles as the sophomore, who scored 22 points after halftime, used a mop to wipe down the court during a dead ball midway through the fourth period to the raucous applause of the crowd.
After the game, guard Kristen Confroy rushed from the bench toward midcourt, where teammates gathered to bask in the 30-point triumph. As one of just two holdovers from last year's starting lineup, the senior used the moment to embrace the team's fun vibe.
Confroy approached Myers with three fingers raised, celebrating the unexpected 3-pointer Myers hit minutes before. Myers struggled to keep a straight face.
"This is the team we need to be moving forward," Confroy said.
If the Terps keep up their balanced scoring, torrid 3-point shooting and positive locker room atmosphere, they're capable of avenging their Sweet 16 upset to No. 10-seed Oregon last year, an outcome that seemed unlikely entering the season.
Regardless of whether they pull that off, their energy makes them essential viewing down the stretch.