Bryant vs. Maryland men's lacrosse: Three things to watch

The two teams have met just once, with Maryland cruising to a 13-6 thrashing March 15, 2009. The Terps are 21-11 in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament, but this is Bryant’s first trip to the round of eight.

The Bulldogs (16-4) have won five consecutive games, a run capped by Sunday’s 10-9 upset of second-seeded Syracuse in the first round of the tournament. It was the Northeast Conference tournament champion’s first win against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. Freshman attackman Tucker James, who ranks second on the team in both assists (20) and points (50), recorded a six points on a career-high four goals and two assists against the Orange.

The seventh-seeded Terps (12-3) improved to 16-4 in the first round after rallying from a four-goal deficit and nipping Cornell, 8-7, on Saturday. It was only the program’s second win against the Big Red in five postseason contests. Freshman attackman Matt Rambo’s 35 points are the most by a Maryland rookie since former attackman Grant Catalino posted 42 points in 2008.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Saturday at noon.

1) Start fast. Maryland has outscored its opponents 95-40 in the first half this season, but slow starts have been a sore issue. In three losses, the team has been outscored 12-8 in the first half, and Cornell raced to a 5-1 advantage by halftime Saturday. Terps coach John Tillman said the offense must get out faster and avoid a similar problem against Bryant. 

“I just didn’t like our flow, I didn’t like our tempo, our movement,” he said. “We just got out of rhythm. … We’ve got to look at what didn’t go well and go back to work and get back to some fundamental things, clean up some things, work on our execution. You can’t score one goal in a half and expect to win many games. I don’t want to take anything away from Cornell, because part of that was really them, but it’s just hard to win games when you get one goal in a half.”

2) Beware Bryant’s transition. The Bulldogs have relied on their starting attack to fuel the scoring, but they are also not afraid of turning to their defense for some unexpected offense. Freshman long-stick midfielder Cody O’Donnell has registered 10 goals and four assists, and senior short-stick defensive midfielders J.K. Poirier (five goals and seven assists) and Rob Goeren (4, 3) have been nearly as opportunistic. Tillman said Maryland has to be smart when switching from offense to defense.

“They’re great with early offense,” he said. “They dodge from defense to offense very well. Their pole is very talented, both poles are excellent. One is a former middie that has got 14 points, and he will go to the goal. Their short-sticks will attack the goal. So you can’t just run off or they’re going to get transition. And if you don’t get in and defend well against their early offense, they’re going to do a great job of generating really quick, easy shots, and those are momentum goals for them.”

3) Loosen the reins. No one would accuse Maryland of playing loose and carefree with the ball. Under Tillman, the team has become a more disciplined outfit that values possessions and avoids transgressions like turnovers and penalties. But ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said the Terps could benefit from unshackling the offense and allowing the players to work a little more independently within the confines of the game plan.

“They fought from behind against Cornell and showed that they have the ability to come back and showed that they can play, but I just think they need to play,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. “They just need to go out and play lacrosse, and not be so robotic and mechanical.”

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