John Tillman is taking the high road.
No. 6 Maryland sewed up a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and locked up the top seed in Friday’s league tournament after scoring a 12-8 victory over No. 10 Notre Dame on Saturday. The Terps (10-2) split the crown with No. 2 Duke via identical 4-1 records in the conference, but they were awarded the No. 1 seed because of a 10-6 win over the Blue Devils on March 1.
It’s a remarkable achievement for a team that was voted to finish sixth in the ACC’s preseason poll, and the Maryland coach might have been in his right to gloat a little. But he declined to take the bait.
“I think anytime you’re in a conference, one of your goals is going to be to try to win the regular-season conference and if you have a tournament, you’re obviously going to try to do that, too,” Tillman said during his weekly conference call on Tuesday morning. “We haven’t talked about that. We’ve really just felt like we’re going to work on the things we need to work on, to try to be the best team we can be. We’ve had moments this year when we’ve played really well, and we’ve had moments when we’ve played poorly. I will give our kids some credit in that when we’ve gotten knocked down, they’ve gotten back up and have continued to work hard and stick together. We certainly have a lot we need to work on.”
The Terps will open the ACC tournament with a familiar opponent: the Fighting Irish (6-5, 2-3). The memory of Saturday’s game should be fresh for both teams, but Tillman questioned whether the familiarity would be an advantage for Maryland.
“I think that’s been something that a lot of people have brought up,” he said. “It’s really a tricky situation. I think there’s a couple different ways you can look at it. When you’re facing a team again and it’s this late in the year, you try to shake things up, your lineup, your schemes a little bit. I think that’s really the hardest thing at this time of the year. Sometimes when a team doesn’t get the win the first time, maybe you’re going to be able to more critically assess what you’re doing, to make a few tweaks here and there, and there’s a little bit of that added motivation.
"On the other side, obviously, you can’t relax. That game was 8-8 late in the fourth quarter, and it was anybody’s game. We were very fortunate. A ball hit a pipe and went right to [junior midfielder] Joe [LoCascio’s] stick and we got a goal. But if that ball is saved and they come down and score, then they’re leading and who knows what happens. That’s something we have to understand, that it was anybody’s game. I give them a lot of credit for coming back and really stealing momentum in that fourth quarter.”