John Tillman knows his Maryland men's lacrosse team has limitations. It isn't the most dynamic group and it struggles with consistency.
Yet after a regular season that featured four fourth-quarter collapses, the Terps seemed to be peaking at precisely the right moment. They were playing unified and composed, stealing wins against three of the tournament's top teams — No. 7 seed Lehigh, No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins and No. 3 seed Duke.
On Monday afternoon, though, the magic dust was nowhere to be found. The Terps delivered their worst offensive performance in more than a decade, and fell to No. 1 seed Loyola, 9-3, in the national championship game. For the seventh-straight time since 1975, they were unable to win the sport's final contest.
"A game like this is tough for us on three days rest because we're not the fastest team to start," said Tillman, who is the first coach in tournament history to take two unseeded teams (2011 and 2012) to Memorial Day. "I think we lost a little bit of juice."
That was evident against the Greyhounds.
The Terps, a team that entered Monday's contest averaging 11.18 goals, had their worst output since a 7-2 loss at Virginia on March 31, 2001. It was also the lowest total in the history of the championship game, one less than the four goals Syracuse tallied in 1986.
Of course, it wasn't for a lack of looks. The Terps took 29 shots. They connected on 10.3 percent of them.
"If you watch, we had a ton of shots," midfielder Mike Chanenchuk said. "We just couldn't get into any rhythm out there and that kind of hurt us."
Loyola simply put on a defensive clinic. It shut out the Terps' top-five scorers, and held the team scoreless for more than 40 minutes to close the game.
After midfielder Kevin Cooper (Archbishop Spalding) gave Tillman's squad a 3-2 lead with 10:40 remaining in the second quarter, the Terps couldn't seem to gain any leverage. Loyola's Joe Fletcher, Scott Ratliff and Josh Hawkins lived up to their billings as three of the sport's top defensive standouts, forcing the Terps into ill-advised shots.
"We kind of settled, instead of having patience and going, 'Listen, we have the ball, it's no big deal,'" Tillman said. "I think being down, sometimes that gets in the back of your mind. You're trying a little harder."
It was an understandable letdown. After all, the Terps lost about half their roster to graduation last May. They also had to overcome the loss of senior captain Jake Bernhardt, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during a preseason scrimmage against the Greyhounds.
"With all the obstacles, the inexperience, the challenges, those guys were good enough to at least believe us and try and go, 'You know what? Maybe we can do this,'" Tillman said. "I really think the guys at the end of the year did an awesome job of getting it together, and getting everything going to try and make it happen."
When the final whistled sounded at Gillette Stadium, they weren't able to get it done. They weren't able to capture the program's first title in 37 years.
But the Terps weren't supposed to be playing Monday. That likely won't be the case when the preseason rankings are released next February.
"We just need to grow from this," defenseman Goran Murray said.
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