EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Inside and outside, No. 3 Maryland remains a step ahead of the rest of the Big Ten.
Brionna Jones had 28 points and 15 rebounds, and the third-ranked Terrapins beat Michigan State 89-72 on Sunday, spoiling coach Suzy Merchant’s return to the sideline for the Spartans. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 24 points for Maryland, which shot 61 percent from the field in the first half and never trailed in the game.
”For us, it starts and ends with Bri Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said.
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Jones, who came into the game with the top field goal percentage in the nation at 69.2 percent, upped that mark by going 9 for 12. She made her first seven shots from the floor and didn’t miss one until the final minute of the third quarter. The Terrapins (25-1, 13-0) improved to 53-2 against league opponents – including conference tournament games – since joining the Big Ten in 2014-15.
Merchant came back from a medical leave of absence to coach the Spartans (16-9, 6-6) for the first time since Jan. 14.
Walker-Kimbrough went 3 of 7 from 3-point range, but it was Jones who established Maryland’s clear superiority inside. The Terps led 51-40 at halftime and 67-49 after three quarters.
”That third quarter was probably the one that got us,” Merchant said. ”We only scored nine points in that quarter. Just, we were a little bit flat. I think early we had good energy.”
Tori Jankoska led Michigan State with 23 points. The Spartans never led in the game.
”We wanted to defend Tori as soon as she got on the floor,” Frese said. ”We went man, zone, a triangle-and-two – in terms of trying to limit her touches, but just really making her have to take a lot of tough shots.”
Jankoska went 8 of 19 from the field and 5 of 13 from 3-point range.
Maryland: The Terps have had only two games decided by single digits in league play this year, and they were able to build a comfortable lead against Michigan State behind the 6-foot-3 Jones. Maryland outscored the Spartans 46-26 in the paint.
Michigan State: Merchant’s return was a welcome sight for a team trying to boost its NCAA Tournament chances. The Spartans shot well enough against Maryland to keep the game from becoming a total blowout, and they’ll try to finish strong in their final four games of the regular season.
Maryland is poised to move up to No. 2 after second-ranked Baylor’s loss to Texas on Monday night.
Jankoska became the first player in program history to reach the 2,000-point mark. A 3-pointer in the second quarter gave her 2,002, and the Michigan State guard is now at 2,017.
”For sure, I would rather have the win, but it is a really cool accomplishment,” Jankoska said. ”Keep improving your game, and great things can happen.”
Starting forward Taya Reimer fouled out for Michigan State, and backup Kennedy Johnson used up all five of her fouls in only 11 minutes. Maryland went 22 of 30 on free throws, while Michigan State was just 6 of 15.
”I try to go out and just embrace the physicality and just see how the game is called early,” Jones said. ”I’m just trying to attack and get to the basket.”
Maryland: The Terps return home to face Wisconsin on Wednesday night.
Michigan State: The Spartans host Minnesota on Thursday night. Michigan State will be trying for a regular-season sweep after winning the first meeting 93-74 on Jan. 30.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister