It was obvious from the outset that Sunday's showdown between North Carolina and Maryland would come down to which team could dictate its style of play and pace.
The Terps turned in a textbook example of slowing the tempo and the result was a surprisingly easy victory.
Midfielders Bryan Cole, Connor Kelly and Joe LoCascio led the way as No. 6 seed Maryland used a methodical offense and suffocating defense to overwhelm third-seeded North Carolina, 14-7, in the NCAA Division I quarterfinals.
Cole reached career highs with four goals and five points. LoCascio contributed a goal and three assists while Kelly, a freshman who had scored two goals all season, scored three.
"Obviously, I'm very proud of our players for their effort today. We realize what's at stake in a game like this. We came out and probably played our most complete game of the year, which is what we were striving for," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "We're excited to have another week together."
An announced 10,235 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium watched as the Terps controlled possession. Faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa captured 12 of the 19 draws he took before leaving late in the third quarter to rest for next weekend.
"I thought we shot the ball really well. Our guys shared the ball and when we got opportunities we canned them," Tillman said of Maryland's highest goal output of the season. "We knew faceoffs were going to be really critical. Charlie and the wing guys did a terrific job of consistently giving us possession."
Matt Rambo had a goal and two assists while fellow attackman Jay Carlson added two goals as Maryland advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the fourth time in Tillman's five-year tenure. The Terps will be seeking their first national championship since 1975, having lost 17 times in either the semifinals or finals since then.
"Our goal was to make the final four and we got that down. That being said, we want to be the last team standing," senior defenseman Casey Ikeda said. "We're honored to be there, but there is still some work to be done."
Maryland (14-3) will meet Johns Hopkins (11-6), a longtime rival in the state and now in the Big Ten Conference as well, in next Saturday's semifinals.
"I think getting to the final four is kind of a Catch-22 when all is said and done," Tillman said. "You want to get to championship weekend. It's the greatest event in our sport. Once you get there, you realize how close you are and you want to finish. If you get that close, it's pretty devastating to lose."
Sunday's contest was somewhat of a repeat of the regular-season matchup between the former Atlantic Coast Conference rivals, which Maryland won, 10-8, at the Pacific Coast Shootout on March 21 in Santa Ana, Calif. Once again, the Terps used ball control and stingy defense to stop the high-scoring Tar Heels.
"It was eerily similar to the last time we played them in terms of pace of play," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "Maryland did a great job of controlling tempo — winning faceoffs and taking advantage of opportunities when they had them."
Goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr recorded 12 saves to anchor an aggressive defense that forced Carolina into 13 turnovers, five in the first quarter. Bernlohr, a first-year starter, got great support from his physical close defense of Ikeda, Matt Dunn and Mac Pons. Long-stick midfielder Tim Muller, with short-stick Isaiah Davis-Allen, are also integral members of a unit that ranks No. 1 nationally with only 6.6 goals allowed per game.
"They are an aggressive defense. They put great pressure on you and they slide so well. They have a great team scheme," Breschi said. "They get in your gloves and don't foul much. And when you have Bernlohr, arguably the best in the country, behind them it puts pressure on you."
North Carolina came into the game as the country's third-highest scoring squad, with an average of 14.8 goals per game, but managed just two through the better part of three quarters. Breschi thought the Tar Heels started to press on the offensive end and it was evidenced by errant passes and dropped balls, many early in possessions.
"There is no doubt it is frustrating. It puts a lot of pressure on our defense because Maryland has long possessions," said attackman Joey Sankey, who led Carolina with three goals and an assist. "When we come down the field and give it up right away, it's another long possession on our defense."
Maryland was extremely efficient on offense and seemed to finish every one of its lengthy first-half possessions with a goal. Kelly scored twice on cannon sidearm crank shots while LoCascio and Rambo distributed two assists apiece as the Terps closed the second quarter with a 4-0 run to take a 9-2 lead at halftime.