COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Standing tall in the middle of the lane, South Carolina freshman Aliyah Boston proved to be the difference maker in a matchup between two of the nation's premier women's basketball programs.
Boston scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots to help the now No. 6 Gamecocks beat now No. 8 Maryland 63-54 on Sunday.
USC moved up to sixth in The Associated Press poll released on Monday, while Maryland dropped to No. 8.
South Carolina (2-0) never trailed in its first road test. The Gamecocks led by 10 at halftime, upped the margin to 14 in the third quarter and remained comfortably in front the rest of the way.
When the 6-foot-5 Boston wasn't swatting away a shot, she found a way to make the Terrapins miss.
"You saw, she just impacted so many shots when we got into the paint," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "She was the anchor defensively that they needed, and probably got in our heads with all the missed layups that we had. I thought she was a big reason for it."
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley knew Boston was tall, but misjudged her prowess on the defensive end of the court.
"Recruiting her, I didn't realize she was that much of a shot blocker," Staley said. "I thought she blocked shots because she was big, but there's a knack to it. She did a great job not fouling, keeping the ball in play and altering shots."
Asked if her presence in the middle was the reason behind Maryland's reluctance to drive the lane, Boston answered, "I don't know if it was me, but they did start taking more outside jump shots. So I guess the answer is yes."
The Terrapins (1-1) return all five starters from a squad that went 29-5 and won the Big Ten regular-season title. Maryland blasted Wagner 119-56 in the opener, but this game was decidedly different.
Freshman Ashley Owusa scored 17 for the Terps, who shot 31% and finished 2 for 16 from beyond the arc.
Down 38-24 early in the third quarter, the Terrapins cut it to 44-38 late in the period but simply could not get production from their most skilled shooters.
Kaila Charles finished with 11 points on 5-for-18 shooting and Taylor Mikesell failed to score. Both were picked to the All-Big Ten Preseason team.
"We have a lot of lessons to learn," Charles conceded.
After guiding South Carolina to a 23-10 record and an appearance in the Sweet 16 last season, Staley is counting on a retooled roster that features only two seniors and one junior. Seniors Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan were joined in the starting lineup by freshmen Zia Cooke, Boston and Brea Beal.
Harris scored 13 for the Gamecocks, Cooke added 10 and Beal had a team-high 10 rebounds, which more than offset her 0 for 6 shooting performance.
"Whatever you need, she provides," Staley said. "She didn't make a basket, but her impact was felt. I just thought she played huge."
With Beal leading the way, the Gamecocks finished with a 54-38 rebounding advantage.
A year ago, Maryland went to South Carolina and rallied from an early 12-point deficit to register an 85-61 victory.
"It was an embarrassment," Staley said.
In this one, the Gamecocks bolted to a 14-8 lead behind Boston, who had eight points and three rebounds in the opening six minutes.
South Carolina expanded the advantage to 28-19 while the Terrapins went through a 1-for-12 dry spell, and led 34-24 at halftime after limiting Maryland to nine points on 4-for-20 shooting in the second quarter.
In addition to playing at Maryland before the start of Southeastern Conference play, the Gamecocks have road games against Temple and Clemson in addition to facing Baylor in the Virgin Islands.
"We like to utilize November and December to prepare for March," Staley said. "These are the type of games your players will grow up and learn. Whether you win or you lose, there's a lesson from it."
South Carolina: Huge road win for the Gamecocks, whose rebuild with six newcomers is already in full swing.
Maryland: This defeat should drop the Terps out of the Top 5, but it's likely only a temporary setback for a deep team adjusting to a lineup with two starting freshmen.
South Carolina stays on the road for a matchup against Dayton on Wednesday night.
Maryland opens its road schedule Wednesday night at James Madison.
More Articles to Read