Defense has traditionally been a strength for the Maryland men’s lacrosse team. What the Terps did Sunday was not traditional.
Using a scheme that primarily entailed sophomore defenseman Jack Welding shadowing standout attackman Jeff Teat wherever he went, top-seeded Maryland firmly squelched any notion of an upset bid by unseeded Cornell and cruised to a 13-8 victory in an NCAA Division I tournament quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Sunday.
The Terps (14-3) earned their fifth consecutive trip to the national semifinals, where they will meet No. 4 seed Duke (14-3), which earned a 14-9 win over No. 5 seed Johns Hopkins (12-4), later Sunday.
The Maryland-Duke game will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., preceded by No. 2 Albany vs. No. 3 Yale at noon.
The Terps, the first reigning NCAA champion to reach the Final Four since Duke in 2014, were paced Sunday by a pair of freshmen: Midfielder Bubba Fairman had a game-high five points on three goals and two assists, and attackman Logan Wisnauskas (Boys’ Latin) had two goals and two assists. And sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt added three goals and one assist to offset a quiet showing from senior midfielder and Tewaaraton Award finalist Connor Kelly (one goal on three shots and no assists).
Perhaps the most significant element to the victory was the Terps’ decision to face-guard Teat nearly during the entire game. Welding got the primary assignment, but starting close defensemen Bryce Young and Curtis Corley also marked Teat, and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Adam DiMillo followed Teat during the Big Red’s three extra-man opportunities.
Teat, who entered the weekend ranked first in the nation in assists (60) and second in points (97) and had been roundly pointed to as one player who was erroneously left out of the pool of five finalists for the Tewaaraton, finished with no goals and two assists and had just as many turnovers (one) as he had shots (one).
Welding, who credited freshman attackman Kyle Brickerd with simulating Teat during last week’s practices, said he tried to match the Maryland logo on his chest with Teat’s Cornell logo.
“I had never really done it before, but it was my job this week,” he said. “So I came prepared today.”
Coach John Tillman said the coaches studied defensive strategies shown by Brown, Lehigh and Princeton earlier in the season and cherry-picked certain elements to use against Teat. He also said the coaches were comfortable tasking Welding with that primary assignment.
“Jack, we have a lot of confidence in him,” Tillman said. “He’s really fast, he plays lefties really well. We just felt like three guys that we felt comfortable with, we could constantly — if we needed to — chase him around and expend a lot of energy. It wasn’t just going to be that one guy. … So to me, it just made sense.”
Big Red coach Peter Milliman said the offense made a concerted effort to try to attack the Terps five-on-five and avoid getting bogged down with getting Teat touches.
“I think a lot of the goals we scored today — even though it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet — those are part of Jeff being shut,” he said. “I’m not oblivious to the fact that he’s one of the best players in our game, and we are much better offensively with him touching the ball. But as you can see, the problem is, in the early parts of the game, when we make that the game plan, to get Jeff the ball, we probably struggle more than anything else. So we’ve kind of fought the last few weeks to get into a rhythm with him being shut so consistently.”
Leading 6-4 at halftime, the Terps embarked on a 6-0 run spanning the first 17:58 of the second half to create separation that the Big Red could not overcome. Fairman scored three times and had an assist and Wisnauskas had one goal and two assists during the spurt.
Fairman said the key was offensive coordinator J.L. Reppert’s halftime adjustment of having the players attack from behind the cage.
“I think Cornell’s defense is just so buttoned down inside,” Fairman said. “We kind of had to spread them out, and one way we could do that was from X. Jared Bernhardt played phenomenal today. They were kind of locking off Connor Kelly. So it was kind of hard to swing the ball from topside. So we kind of had to fix some things, and Coach Reppert did such a good job coming out of halftime with the new plan, and it really worked.”
Cornell got four goals and one assist from senior midfielder Jordan Dowiak and one goal and three assists from sophomore midfielder Connor Fletcher.
But the Big Red dropped to 13-5 and were denied their first appearance in the national semifinals since 2013. They missed a chance to become the fourth unseeded team in a row to advance to the Final Four, where they would have joined Johns Hopkins in 2015, North Carolina in 2016 and Towson in 2017.
Cornell 0 4 0 4 — 8
Maryland 1 5 5 2 — 13
Goals: C—Dowiak 4, Petterson 2, Fletcher, Telesco; M—Bernhardt 3, Fairman 3, Wisnauskas 2, DeMaio 2, Adler, Giblin, Kelly. Assists: C—Fletcher 3, Teat 2, Dowiak, Licciardi; M—Fairman 2, Rotanz 2, Wisnauskas 2, Bernhardt, DiMillo, Shockey, Young. Saves: C—Knight 7; M—Morris 8.
Wednesday, May 9
Robert Morris 12, Canisius 6
Saturday, May 12
Yale 15, UMass 13
Duke 17, Villanova 11
Albany (NY) 18, Richmond 9
Loyola (Md.) 13, Virginia 9
Sunday, May 13
Maryland 14, Robert Morris 11
Denver 9, Notre Dame 7
Johns Hopkins 10, Georgetown 9, OT
Cornell 10, Syracuse 9
Saturday, May 19
At James M. Shuart Stadium
Yale 8, Loyola (Md.) 5
Albany (NY) 15, Denver 13
Sunday, May 20
At Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Maryland 13, Cornell 8
Duke 14, Johns Hopkins 9
Saturday, May 26
At Gillette Stadium
Yale (15-3) vs. Albany (NY) (16-2), noon
Maryland (14-3) vs. Duke (14-3), 2:30 p.m.
Monday, May 28
At Gillette Stadium
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.