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Maryland 78, BC 69

Eagles lose, begin eyeing ACC tourney

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / February 28, 2011

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The Boston College women’s basketball team walked off the court at Conte Forum yesterday with a familiar feeling.

The regular season closed with a 78-69 loss to No. 15 Maryland and the Eagles don’t expect an 18-win regular season to be enough for the selection committee to include them in the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. So yet again, they are putting all of their hope in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which begins Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

“I think they understand that,’’ BC coach Sylvia Crawley said. “We’ve talked about it before. They understand this is something that they want. We’ll take off [today] and when we come in here [tomorrow], we’re coming in with our strategy and we’re coming in to win.’’

While Crawley emphasized the team’s determination to win the conference tourney, senior guard Jaclyn Thoman sat beside her, nodding. Thoman, forward Stefanie Murphy, and center Carolyn Swords are the team’s only seniors. Each season for this trio has ended with a winning record. What has eluded them has been an NCAA Tournament berth.

BC hasn’t appeared in the NCAAs since 2006, and this year it may be on the outs yet again unless it has a strong showing in the ACC tournament, in which it will be the No. 7 seed and face No. 10 seed North Carolina State.

“We’re all on the same page,’’ Thoman said. “We know what needs to be done.’’

Standing out is difficult in a conference that has five teams among the top 15 in the country. Earlier this season, BC managed a 78-69 victory at Maryland, but yesterday the Eagles couldn’t sustain momentum against the Terrapins and struggled with a slow start.

Three minutes into the game, BC had two shots, four turnovers, two fouls, and was facing an 8-0 deficit. It wasn’t until the 15:53 mark that Murphy got the first points of the game for BC, fighting for a layup. However, the sluggish start didn’t immediately sink the Eagles.

After trailing by as many as 10 points, the Eagles (18-11, 5-9) tied the score at 23 on a 3-pointer by Kerri Shields with 5:29 left in the half. But Maryland (23-6, 9-5) turned what little momentum BC had into a distant memory with a 9-0 run, and ended the half with a 38-28 lead.

The up-and-down play continued for the Eagles into the second half as bursts of production helped them get within 9 with 2:20 remaining. But when BC needed a 3-pointer, it couldn’t get one, going 0 for 11 beyond the arc in the second half.

“The biggest difference was we just didn’t shoot well,’’ Crawley said. “We got some open looks. We just didn’t knock them down, and that normally doesn’t happen with our team. But that’s something we can fix going into the tournament.’’

The Eagles expressed optimism about the next stage of the season and they enter it with three of the program’s biggest contributors. The three seniors could be considered the most productive trio in program history. They have combined for 846 assists, 4,395 points, and 2,333 rebounds.

Murphy and Swords will go down as the most prolific scoring and rebounding tandem in Eagles women’s basketball history. They hold the top two spots in career rebounds, with Swords leading the way with 1,105.

Swords, from Sudbury, is fourth all time in field goal percentage in the NCAA at 68 percent. She has played in more games than any other BC player (129) and is 7 points shy of having the second-most in BC history. Swords also holds the school record for blocked shots with 174.

Murphy, from Londonderry, N.H., emerged this season with her best performance, averaging 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.

Thoman has converted 40 percent of her 3-point attempts (36 for 89) this season and is averaging 10.3 points a game.

For a team with seven newcomers, Crawley said Murphy, Swords, and Thoman provided stability and leadership, which she hopes to see in the ACC tournament.

“Our three seniors bring a lot to this team and their leadership is incredible from the end of last season until now,’’ Crawley said. “I wish I had a couple of more years with them.

“I’m excited about the ACC tournament because it’s a new beginning for this team. I know they have some goals that they’ve set, and I’m excited about taking that journey with them.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.