Goran Murray has lined up against some of the game's best attackmen, and that task figures to continue when No. 6 Maryland (10-2) plays No. 10 Notre Dame (6-5) in the second of two Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
In Maryland's 12-8 victory over the Fighting Irish on Saturday, Matt Kavanagh finished with two goals and four assists while being shadowed primarily by Murray, a junior defenseman. On one of those goals, Murray had slid to help a teammate, and two of the assists came on extra-man chances, when Murray is usually off the field.
But Murray did not try to hide behind those qualifiers.
"Personally, I felt like I could've played better," he said. "Two and four is a lot. That's six points. We did hold them to eight goals, but our standards are a little higher than that. We should be holding teams to below six. My goal is for a team not to score any goals. So I look at every game as I can be better, I need to be better, I need to do certain things better."
This season, Murray has marked Duke senior Jordan Wolf (two goals and one assist), Virginia sophomore James Pannell (one goal) and Johns Hopkins junior Wells Stanwick (three goals and one assist). But rather than harping on his individual matchups, Maryland coach John Tillman said Murray's value is rooted in his grasp of team defense.
"In his freshman year, I think Goran was doing a lot more of covering his guy, but I think he's really evolved in terms of his overall ability — his ability to pick up ground balls, clear the ball, his off-ball play," Tillman said. "He's become a much more vocal leader, he's a better communicator, and even last week, Kavanagh's a terrific player and certainly Goran was covering him, but we didn't want it to be about Goran vs. Matt. … Goran's done a really good job of just making sure he's playing Maryland defense, not getting caught up in matchups, because if you do, it really does hurt you."
Murray conceded that abandoning his focus on an opposing player — and his personal numbers, which include just nine ground balls and six caused turnovers — to a team-based game plan hasn't been easy.
"I viewed it as, if I was guarding my guy and I shut him down, it would help my defense," he said. "I compartmentalized it. Now that I'm older and helping the younger guys on my team, it's more of a team defense. There are teams that win in May and they all come together. There's one goal, and everyone buys into their job on defense. You can do your job if you compartmentalize it, but you need that cohesiveness, which I feel like we haven't had since I've been here. But I really do feel like we have it this year where we're not really worried about matchups."
Murray's reputation as the one player who tries to defend an opponent's offensive quarterback has helped his teammates settle into their roles.
"Goran is a guy who leads by example," junior defenseman Casey Ikeda said. "He knows he has the best matchup with the other team's best attackman every week. He's able to give us that energy to where he's covering really well. He brings that emotion to us. We know we can rely on him to get that job done."