PHILADELPHIA — It's still 41 years and counting ...
A lot of people have terms for the kind of droughts being suffered by the Maryland men's lacrosse team. It's like the "Curse of the Bambino." Or maybe College Park has become Cleveland when it comes to lacrosse or the Terps have become the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s.
The top-ranked Maryland lost another championship game Monday, 14-13, in overtime to unseeded North Carolina. The Terps have now lost four title games in the last six years.
It's no longer embarrassing, but depressing.
Afterward, you not only felt sorry for Maryland's players, but John Tillman. He has been the team's head coach in those six seasons, but this was the first time he actually broke down and cried in the postgame news conference.
"I think when you're a leader, you gotta set the example," said Tillman. "And so the biggest thing right now is making sure my guys are OK. There are a lot of guys that are hurt and they're all looking at me and I can't feel sorry for myself. I got to make sure that they're OK and try to pick them up. I can't make them feel better."
"Right now we just have to deal with the disappointment and I told them that eventually it feels a little less severe," said Tillman. "There's a lot of adversity and obstacles in life and you've got to be able to deal with it and move on. And I've got to show the kids the way."
At this point, it's hard to imagine Maryland winning the title any time soon. The Terps have the talent, but this is a program that has been scarred. They have lost in nine title games since last winning the national championship in 1975 and the anxiety continues to build.
Former great Maryland coaches like Dick Edell and Dave Cottle couldn't get the proverbial monkey off their backs, and the Terps' failure to win a championship has become the size of Lincoln Financial Field, where they lost Monday.
This seemed like Maryland's year. The Terps had won 16 straight going into the game and even though they didn't have the big-name studs on the roster, they had as much depth as any team in the tournament. All the other prominent programs had been eliminated and the Terps had beaten North Carolina, 11-8, earlier in the season. This was the Tar Heels' first appearance in the Final Four and championship game since 1993.
Everything was set up for a parade down Route 1 in College Park.
And then the Terps lost. Again.
It wasn't from a lack of effort, but they fell apart in crunch time. They had handled the pressure two days before in an overtime win against Brown, but that was the semifinal. For the Terps, losing in the championship game has become almost as guaranteed as death and taxes.
What happened this time?
Let's just look at the final five minutes. With about 2:30 left in the game, Maryland had two chances to score the possible game winner but attackman Colin Heacock, one of the team's top players, threw a pass away to end one possession and later hit the top pipe of the goal with 1:33 remaining.
Was he unlucky or was the curse at work?
The Terps had a chance to win in overtime but midfielder Connor Kelly's shot on an extra man opportunity was stopped by goalie Brian Balkam. On the ensuing possession, Maryland long stick middie Mike McCarney was called for a one-minute cross-checking penalty outside the crease after a brilliant save by goalie Kyle Bernlohr.
That was another bad decision by the Terps, as poor as midfielder Henry West's slashing penalty, which set up another North Carolina goal with 3:53 remaining. Maryland was disciplined for nearly 56 minutes, but then suffered a meltdown late in the game.
It's also questionable why Kelly took the Terps' last shot. To me, it's a no-brainer. The ball has to go junior attackman Matt Rambo. He had three goals and three assists. Kelly had four goals but Rambo was the playmaker, he was Michael Jordan. Just give him the darn ball.
When Maryland was a man down at the end of the game, there was little doubt that sophomore Chris Cloutier was going to take the shot. He did, scoring the game winner and finishing with five goals.
"They give you multiple looks. They'll pressure you," said Tillman of Carolina. "Sometimes they'll fake shut a guy, which they did. They kind of looked like they were going to shut Matt [Rambo] and started with that and then they got out of it. We had a couple of different things planned. We see him [Connor Kelly] shoot that shot all the time in practice. I'd give that guy the ball in overtime any time, it was just inches away."
Tillman said he will second guess himself many times over, and coaches always do that when they lose. He'll rebound because he is the head coach, a good head coach. But it will be tougher on the players.
Some will be able to shrug off this loss but the seeds of doubt will be there next year if they go to the playoffs. The further they go into the postseason, the harder it is to erase the memories of past failures in the championship game.
This team might not be able to cleanse this loss because unlike previous championship losses under Tillman to Loyola and Denver, this one was tight. Those others were embarrassing so this one might takes years to get over.
Hopefully, not 41 more.