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Freshman Audi Crooks scores 40 as No. 7-seed Iowa State beats 10th-seed Maryland in NCAA first round

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Audi Crooks grabbed the Iowa State name plate and emphatically placed it on the big NCAA Tournament bracket board, into the space for the second round.

She absolutely earned the chance to do so.

“That was so fun, my teammates soaked me in water,” she said, still grinning from ear to ear some 30 minutes later. "I’m just excited to be able to have another game with these girls, with this group. This is a special team and I just didn’t want it to end."

The freshman star scored a career-high 40 points on 18-for-20 shooting in her sensational NCAA Tournament debut, and No. 7-seed Iowa State hit all the big shots in the second half to rally from 20 points down and beat 10th-seeded Maryland 93-86 on Friday night.

Crooks joined Bill Walton as the only players in NCAA Tournament history to score 40 points on at least 90% shooting after Walton did so for UCLA in the 1973 title game, according to OptaSTATS.

The 20-point comeback marked the second-largest all-time in an NCAA Tournament game trailing only Texas A&M overcoming a 21-point deficit to beat Penn in 2017.

“I thought that was one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever been a part of,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said, praising his team's poise to charge back. “So proud of our team, ecstatic for them.”

Fighting tears, Crooks shared how she takes a moment before every game to be spiritual, pray, and remember her father Jimmie who died when she was 16 in 2021. She committed to Iowa State shortly after that, and Fennelly even went to her favorite Mexican food restaurant during the recruiting process and it's not his favorite fare.

“I’m just grateful, I can’t say thank you enough to the people that I’m surrounded by,” Crooks said. “When you're surrounded by people that you love, that care about you, that trust you as much as they do getting you the ball, that speaks volumes to how we play as a unit.”

Emily Ryan knocked down a key 3-pointer with 6:06 remaining and finished with 18 points while dishing out 14 assists as Iowa State kept pounding the ball inside to the ever-reliable Crooks — even when it led to a handful of late turnovers.

Crooks, the program’s first freshman to earn AP All-America honors with her honorable mention selection this week, came in leading the team averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and became the 16th player to score 40 or more this season. She had 12 rebounds against Maryland.

“She dropped 40 on 20 shots, that’s pretty eye-popping right there,” Ryan said of pointing out the stat sheet to her teammate. "It was a special night for her as well as our team. It couldn't have happened to a better person. ... When we throw it in there she gets it every time."

Allie Kubek knocked down all five of her 3-pointers in the first half and finished with seven from long range on the way to a season-best 29 points, and it looked like Maryland might run away from the Cyclones.

Instead, it's Iowa State (21-11) advancing to play Sunday for a spot in the Portland Regional. The Cyclones will face second-seeded Stanford (29-5) after the Cardinal beat No. 15 Norfolk State 79-50 in Friday’s late game at Maples Pavilion.

Kelsey Joens hit a tying 3-pointer with 3:20 left in the third quarter as Iowa State used a 10-0 run to get back in the game and Crooks’ three-point play at the 2:50 mark put the Cyclones ahead 62-61 before she scored again the next time down.

Kubek's hot hand from 3-point range got Maryland (19-14) going early from the perimeter and the Terrapins had to try to make things tough on 6-foot-3 Crooks in the low post as she came in shooting an NCAA-best 58.4% from the floor.

“I would say it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen considering the points, the efficiency, the venue, the event,” Fennelly said.

Maryland made nine 3s in the first half, its most in any half this season — and the 11 total 3s were the Terrapins' high.

This was a coaching reunion between close friends. Fennelly hired now-Terrapins coach Brenda Frese on his first staff in Ames and she stayed with the program from 1995-99. They posed for a photo before the game.

“It’s awful, Brenda’s part of my family,” Fennelly said of beating his dear friend.

The programs had never met previously — and Frese's team reached its 14th straight NCAA Tournament after an upset of Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament before losing to Nebraska.

“We’re really disappointed and sad for our fifth-year seniors that we couldn’t close this out,” said Frese, whose teams had never lost in the first round during her tenure dating to 2002.

Maryland hit six quick 3s and 10 of 13 shots out of the gate for a 33-20 lead after the opening quarter.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins shot 70.6% in the first period making 6 of 7 3s and the 33 points were their most in any quarter of an NCAA Tournament game. They also kept possessions alive with hustle plays and by crashing the boards to create second chances. ... During the time Frese coached under Fennelly, Iowa State reached three NCAA Tournaments and the Elite Eight in 1999. Frese's sister, Stacy, played for Fennelly from 1997-2000.

Iowa State: Crooks also became just the fourth player in Iowa State program history to score 40 points in a game — and the performance marked the most points in an NCAA debut in the last 25 years. ... The Cyclones trailed 52-36 at halftime and overcame 17 turnovers, helped by a 36-25 rebounding advantage.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness