CHESTER, PA. – Fourth-seeded Notre Dame can take all the guesswork out of its resume for the NCAA tournament by upsetting third-seeded Syracuse in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final at PPL Park.
But coach Kevin Corrigan knows the Fighting Irish (7-5) did themselves a huge favor by edging top-seeded Maryland, 6-5, in Friday night’s semifinal.
“We had our backs to the wall a little bit,” Corrigan said. “I don’t think if we lost this game, we’re out of the tournament. But it sure is a harder road and we’re looking for a lot of help from a lot of people, and now we’re in a position to put ourselves into the tournament with a win on Sunday and not have any question about it. That’s a soul-searching time for a team when you’ve kind of struggled to find your wins over the second half of the season.”
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The Terps (10-3) don’t have to worry about their postseason fate, but the loss pretty much will prevent them from claiming the top seed in the NCAA tournament. But coach John Tillman said the team knew what to expect from a motivated Notre Dame squad.
“We just wanted to remind our players that, ‘Hey, just know that this is the type of effort and intensity you’re going to get, and we have to make sure we match that,’” he said. “I thought our guys did that. I think they played hard last week. Last week was a tight game, and this week was a tight game.”
Circling back to “Three Things to Watch” …
1) Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh quiet – until the end. After burning Maryland with two goals and four assists in a Terps’ 12-8 victory a week ago, Kavanagh was held in check by junior defenseman Goran Murray. But when the Fighting Irish needed a goal in the worst way, the sophomore attackman answered the call by converting a feed from junior short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Near in transition with 6.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It was Kavanagh’s only goal of the game, but it was Notre Dame’s biggest blow.
“Give Notre Dame credit,” Tillman said. “They made a great play at the end, and they dodged in transition, and [No.] 50 does what 50 has done a lot this year. So I give Notre Dame all the credit in the world.”
2) Maryland’s inaccuracy an issue. A week ago, Notre Dame put 17 of its 21 shots on net, which made for a busy day for Terps senior goalkeeper Niko Amato. He faced 30 shots on Friday night, but only 15 were on cage. On the flipside, Maryland’s inaccuracy was a huge obstacle. The Terps put just 17 of 37 shots on net. They outshot the Fighting Irish, 24-12, in the second half, but scored only twice and Notre Dame junior goalie Conor Kelly made eight of his game-high 12 stops in that frame.
“You’ve got to score more than five goals when you get 37 shots,” Tillman said. “That’s a credit to their goalie, and I think that’s something we need to work on – obviously, some of our shooting and some of those things. We just have to play smarter from beginning to end. I think we will get better in some of those areas.”
3) Penalties not a concern. After committing five penalties in the second quarter a week ago, Maryland was flagged just three times on Friday night. Notre Dame scored just once in the fourth quarter, but the Terps produced a man-up goal of their own in the same period. So flags did not impact the outcome.