Mike Preston: After No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse tops Virginia, 18-9, Terps can only beat themselves in Final Four | COMMENTARY

·5 min read

No. 1 ranked Maryland’s top opponent in the upcoming NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse Final Four will be ... the University of Maryland.

The two teams that were expected to challenge Maryland for the national championship have been eliminated. No. 2 Georgetown was upset by unseeded Delaware last week in an opening-round game and the Terps easily defeated two-time defending champion Virginia, 18-9, Sunday afternoon in a quarterfinal game on the campus of Ohio State.

Maryland (16-0) will play Princeton (13-5) in one of the semifinal games Saturday in East Harford, Connecticut, and Rutgers will play Cornell in the other. But as it has been for most of 2022, this college lacrosse season is all about the Terps. If they stay focused, no team has the overall talent or depth to beat them. Virginia had the athleticism, at least as far as first-team matchups, but Maryland’s abundance of talent is too deep and too unrelenting.

Maryland beat Virginia, 23-12, nearly a month ago, avenging a 13-12 overtime loss to the Cavaliers (12-4) in a 2019 NCAA Tournament game and a 17-16 defeat in last year’s championship game. Virginia, though, despite being unseeded for this tournament, made Terps fans nervous.

There was no need.

“This hurts, because the ride is over,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to win, holding up the national championship trophy the last two years and to not have the Final Four be a part of the Virginia lacrosse season, well, there is a reason. Because in my opinion, we’ve played the best lacrosse team I’ve seen in the last 16 years.

“I think of 1990, the Syracuse Orange and then the Virginia team 16 years later coached by Dom Starsia. Maryland belongs in that upper echelon. There just isn’t a weakness. The offense is prolific. I despise zone defense but I thought that was a way we could slow down Maryland a little bit because the first time we played, Maryland, they torched us.”

The rout was on by the third quarter. Maryland had a 13-4 lead midway in the frame after attackman Owen Murphy blasted a goal on an assist from faceoff specialist Luke Wierman. The Terps were careless trying to jam the ball in the middle of the field late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, but no matter.

Murphy had four goals and midfielder Anthony DeMaio and attackman Logan Wisnauskas added three apiece, headlining 10 Terps who scored. You knew the Cavaliers were in trouble when Wisnauskas didn’t score a goal in the first half yet Maryland still held a 9-4 halftime lead. He finished with two assists, too, as did DeMaio.

The Terps scored every way imaginable — on settled situations, fast breaks, fast breaks off faceoffs, extra-man opportunities and open goal situations. Tiffany tried a zone, man-to-man and his vintage 10-man ride, but nothing worked as Maryland twice scored two goals within six seconds.

“Obviously, I am excited for this group to be together for another week,” said Maryland coach John Tillman. “I am happy about how we prepared, staring down the national champion and Lars and his staff do a great job, they are very talented. I thought we played better on the ground as the game went on. Our guys rose to the challenge.

“At times, we were a little off-balanced, but I always thought our guys were poised. With Logan, he is stoic by nature and not very emotional if he scores four goals or has four turnovers. But he played well.”

But this wasn’t just about the Terps offense, which flowed to perfection. Maryland defensemen Brent Makar and Ajax Zappitello bottled up one of the top offenses in the game that includes Cavaliers attackman Connor Shellenberger (no goals, no assists) and Matt Moore (1, 1). Those two had been successful with a two-man game from behind goal all season, and Virginia tried to move them out front Sunday to jump-start the offense.

But that didn’t work either. Nothing did for Virginia, not even in the highly anticipated faceoff dual where Wierman dominated Petey LaSalla, capturing 20 of 29.

Maryland led, 4-1, at the end of the first quarter and increased the lead to five at the half. The Cavaliers were thoroughly outplayed in the first two quarters even though they tried different strategies.

The Terps caught Virginia on late substitutions in the first quarter, resulting in two goals. DeMaio made Virginia pay with a goal with 7:39 left in the period to tie the game at 1, and almost two minutes later, he scored again. Midfielder Jonathan Donville, again capitalizing on a late Virginia substitution, scored on a shot with 2:41 remaining, and DeMaio scored his third goal nearly a minute later.

It was somewhat surprising Maryland had the three-goal lead because Virginia won all six faceoffs in the first quarter and went to a deliberate offense, somewhat of an aberration for the Cavaliers. Maryland kept up the pressure in the second period and went ahead, 6-2, with 11:45 remaining on back-to-back goals by attackman Daniel Maltz and Donville.

It was total domination from nearly beginning to end.

With the Final Four set, Maryland has already beaten two of the remaining team. The Terps beat Princeton, 15-10, in late February and they have crushed Rutgers twice by a combined score of 34-16. Maryland is averaging 18.5 goals per game and is statistically No. 1 in almost every major offensive category.

Some have speculated that the Terps might be the best lacrosse team ever. That is a hard sell considering that until recently, within the last couple of decades, lacrosse was a regionalized sport with most of the talent coming from Baltimore or New York. Those great teams from Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Cornell and Virginia were loaded with spectacular players.

The game has grown nationally since then but like most sports, today’s players are bigger, faster and stronger.

Right now, it’s nice that the Terps are in the conversation but they won’t be if they don’t win a national championship.

They just don’t have to beat themselves to make it happen.

NCAA Final Four

NO. 1 MARYLAND VS. NO. 5 PRINCETON

Saturday, TBD

TV: ESPNU