COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In the days leading up to Maryland's first NCAA tournament appearance in two years, coach Brenda Frese wondered how her young team would react to the pressure of a lose-and-go-home situation.
She couldn't have been more delighted with the answer.
The Terrapins scored the game's first 13 points, led by 23 at halftime and cruised to an opening-round 70-48 victory over St. Francis (Pa.) on Sunday.
Alyssa Thomas scored 10 of her 16 points in the first half for the Terrapins (24-7), who have no seniors and six freshmen (including Thomas) on the roster.
Maryland's youth — and the fact that all but three of its players were making their debut in the NCAA tournament — proved irrelevant against the overmatched Red Flash (22-12).
"Your concern with a young team, when you only have three returning players, is how they're going to handle the NCAA tournament," Frese said. "They responded really well, like the winners that they are, and came out and played with a lot of confidence. That's what we were wanting to see."
Maryland, the fourth seed in the Philadelphia Regional, will next face the winner of Sunday's game between Georgetown and Princeton.
"We're excited about moving on and being one of the last 32 teams in the tournament," Frese said.
Brittany Lilley and Nickia Gibbs each scored 10 for 13th-seed St. Francis, the Northeast Conference champions. A year ago, the Red Flash were eliminated in the opening round with a 93-59 loss to Ohio State.
St. Francis had the edge over the Terps in tournament experience, but Maryland was unlike most of the teams the Red Flash see during the regular season.
"They're a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger than what we're used to in our conference," said Allison Daly, one of four guards in the St. Francis starting lineup.
The Terrapins finished with a 49-32 rebounding advantage, forced 24 turnovers and limited St. Francis to 31 percent shooting from the floor.
Still, Red Flash coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl is convinced things might have been different if her team got off to a better start.
"That first half, we missed some shots early," she said. "If we would have hit those I think it would have given our kids more confidence. We've done that in other games."
St. Francis went 0 for 7 from the field with three turnovers as Maryland built a 13-0 lead. Diandra Tchatchouang and Lynetta Kizer each made two baskets in the surge and Anjale Barrett contributed a 3-pointer.
"It was pretty just us telling ourselves that we were going to come out and be ready to play," Kizer said.
Frese couldn't have been more delighted.
"I liked how we came out and set the tone early. That was something we talked about," she said. "I thought we were focused and ready to play."
Samantha Leach finally got the Red Flash on the board at the 15:06 mark. Maryland then upped its lead to 23-2 before Leach scored from 3-point range with 8:49 left in the half.
Prior to that basket, St. Francis was 1 for 13 with 10 turnovers.
"It was definitely frustrating," Leach said. "Maryland did a great job. They came out and executed well and definitely took us out of our game."
It was 40-17 at halftime, and Frese liberally substituted throughout the second half in an effort to keep her key players fresh for Tuesday's second-round contest.