COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Basketball certainly can be a funny game, and the sixth-ranked Maryland women's team got the last laugh on Purdue yesterday.
The eighth-ranked Boilermakers looked every bit the conquerors of the Terps for about 38 minutes of their game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, played at Ohio State's St. John Arena. They controlled the tempo and made Maryland look sloppy and out of sync.
But just when things looked their worst, the Terps used defense, good free-throw shooting and a little luck to beat Purdue, 73-69.
In the first game of the doubleheader, 20th-ranked Ohio State got 35 points from freshman forward Katie Smith and knocked off fifth-ranked Virginia, 91-84, before a raucous home crowd of 9,177.
Maryland's win over Purdue (8-1), combined with its 77-72 victory over top-ranked Tennessee on Wednesday, almost certainly will move the Terps into the top five of the next Associated Press poll.
The Terps (8-1) trailed by as many as 11 points midway through the first half, and by eight with 12 minutes left in the game, thanks to a Purdue defense that was predicated on taking Maryland center Jessie Hicks out of the flow.
But every time Maryland seemed on the verge of dropping out of sight, forward Bonnie Rimkus pulled them back into view.
The 6-foot-4 junior, who now plays mostly on the perimeter after two years inside, had 19 points, including two three-pointers, and a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with six steals.
"I'm starting to adjust better [to playing outside]," said Rimkus. "I'm not the quickest person, but I'm adjusting better."
"She's probably their best three-point shooter," said Purdue coach Lin Dunn. "They've taken their game to another level with Hicks on the inside and now Rimkus on the outside."
In fact, Rimkus -- who has already scored more points this season (123) than she did all last year (102) and is averaging 18 points in Maryland's last six games -- is becoming such an important part of the Terps' offensive scheme that coach Chris Weller is starting to worry.
"The team is getting confidence in Bonnie to a fault, it seems," said Weller. "When Jessie's not scoring, they look to Bonnie and the other players don't think of scoring."
It's a dilemma that a lot of coaches wouldn't mind having, though the Terps nearly squandered Rimkus' gifts yesterday.
Maryland slogged its way through the first half, slowed by Purdue's 1-2-2 zone, and trailed, 32-26, at intermission. In the second half, the Terps got to within two on three separate occasions, only to see the Boilermakers pull ahead by five, six or eight.
With 53 seconds left, Hicks, who had 14 points, sank two free throws to put Maryland ahead by two.
Malissa Boles then sank a jumper in the lane for a four-point Maryland lead, junior forward Michele Andrew made a key steal with 30 seconds left and Boles and Katrina Colleton each hit two foul shots to seal the win.
Take away one terrible half of basketball so far this season -- the Terps shot 17 percent in the first half of their 53-50 loss to Iowa on Dec. 6 -- and Maryland could be No. 1. Yet the Terps don't quite seem convinced of how well they're playing.
"We have a ways to go. We're playing OK, but there are still a lot of things to be done," said Rimkus.
In the first game, the host Buckeyes (8-0) weathered a 9-0 run by Virginia to start the game, then held off the Cavaliers at the end to notch their biggest win in five years.
Meanwhile, Virginia (8-2), which dropped a 66-62 decision to No. 2 Vanderbilt Wednesday, lost their second straight game for the first time in almost two years, and dropped their first road contest in 24 games.
In the middle of it all was Smith, a 5-10 freshman from nearby Logan, Ohio, who combined the brashness of youth with an accurate outside touch.
Smith, the third-leading career scorer in Ohio high school girls history, hit four three-pointers, sank 15 of 18 free throws and scored all but two of Ohio State's last eight points to take Most Valuable Player honors for the Challenge doubleheader.
After the game, Smith stood in a runway just off the court and patiently signed about 300 autographs for about an hour.
"I just kind of started shooting and luckily, they went in," said Smith. "My shooting is something I'm working on. It worked out for me today."
"She's as good as anyone I've seen," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan. "I was the loser in the Katie Smith sweepstakes. She destroyed us."