The Maryland men’s lacrosse team sidestepped a dubious fate.
The Terps narrowly avoided becoming the first overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I tournament since it was expanded in 2003 to lose in the opening round, overtaking visiting Robert Morris in the second half to seal a 14-11 win at Maryland Stadium on Sunday.
The reigning national champions improved to 13-3 and advanced to the quarterfinal round for the fifth consecutive year and 10th time in the past 11. Maryland will meet the winner of Sunday night’s game between Cornell (12-4) and No. 8 seed Syracuse (8-6) on Sunday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The Terps almost joined the Virginia men’s basketball team as No. 1 seeds in 2018 who lost in the opening rounds of their respective tournaments. They trailed 4-1 early in the second quarter and 6-3 at halftime.
Maryland has had its fair share of troubles in first-round games. The 2013 squad was blasted by Cornell, 16-8, at home, the 2014 and 2015 teams had to rally to edge Cornell and Yale, and last year’s squad withstood a fourth-quarter comeback by Bryant.
“To come back from behind, it certainly wasn’t pretty in the first half, and Robert Morris was a team that everybody I talked to just said glowing things about them, and when you turned on the tape, it was no different,” coach John Tillman said. “They were exactly what we kind of expected, just a tough team, athletic, dangerous, skilled, very competitive and tough. It took everything we could to come back and get a big win.”
Maryland’s deficit at halftime might have been even greater if not for the sterling play of fifth-year senior goalkeeper Dan Morris, who made 11 of his season-high-tying 13 saves in the first two quarters.
“I think they were just moving the ball around,” said Morris, who has three games of 13 stops this spring. “They have a lot of good dodgers, and they were just getting to good spots and getting shots off. I just tried to make as many saves as I could. But my defense did a good job of kind of responding, especially in the second half.”
Trailing 6-3 at halftime, the Terps ran off four consecutive goals over a 3:12 span to assume a 7-6 lead with 11:06 left in the third quarter. That was their first lead since 1-0 with 7:45 left in the opening period.
Redshirt junior attackman Matt Schmidt converted a pass from sophomore attackman Ryan Smith to end Maryland’s run with 8:23 remaining in the third frame. But that would be the last time that the Colonials would tie the score as the Terps closed out the stanza with goals from senior attackman Colin Giblin and senior midfielder Connor Kelly.
Kelly, who had been limited to a single goal in the first half by 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior defenseman Zachary Bryant before finishing with a game-high four goals, said the players did not panic in the locker room despite the halftime deficit.
“I think we were poised,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a calm, collected group. We just had to bring it together and work on each other and work on our units offensively and defensively. But that’s the first round. You see a bunch of the games yesterday, they were neck-and-neck, and then people go on runs. … I thought we did a great job of answering, and that’s what we play for.”
Freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman added three goals and one assist for Maryland, which also got two goals and one assist each from fifth-year senior midfielder Tim Rotanz and sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt. Redshirt freshman attackman Anthony DiMaio, who entered with three assists in his first 15 games, compiled three assists in the third quarter alone.
Robert Morris (13-5) was paced by redshirt junior attackman Jimmy Perkins’ three goals and Schmidt’s two goals. Sophomore goalkeeper Chris Reynolds made seven saves in his second consecutive start for junior Alex Heger, the school’s all-time leader in saves, save percentage and wins who did not play because of a lower-body injury suffered Monday.
Coach Andrew McMinn took encouragement from the team’s record-setting season, which includes a 13-win total, its first Northeast Conference tournament crown, and its first NCAA tournament victory with a 12-6 win at Canisius in the play-in game Wednesday.
“As I said in the locker room, these guys certainly proved themselves that they can compete with the best,” he said. “I made the comment specifically that people probably thought that the team coming out of this game — Maryland — would end up going on to compete for the national championship again, and for us to be in the position that that could have been us to knock them off today and take their seed moving forward, just hats off to these guys for the work they’ve done to be in that position.”
Robert Morris 3 3 1 4 — 11
Maryland 1 2 6 5 — 14
Goals: RM—Perkins 3, Schmidt 2, Doyle, Majewski, E.Smith, Torok-Orban, Wales, Ca.Yepsen; M—Kelly 4, Fairman 3, Bernhardt 2, Rotanz 2, DiMillo, Giblin, Puglise. Assists: RM—Kealey, R.Smith, Torok-Orban, Vince, Co.Yepsen; M—DiMaio 3, Adler, Bernhardt, Fairman, Rotanz, Wisnauskas, Young. Saves: RM—Reynolds 7; M—Morris 13.