Defending national champion Maryland men’s lacrosse stunned by Army, 16-15, in NCAA Tournament first round

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COLLEGE PARK — In hindsight, matching what Maryland men’s lacrosse accomplished last season might have been a fantasy. The 2022 team became the first squad in NCAA Division I history to go 18-0 and capture the national title, the first to finish the season with an unblemished mark since 2006.

But an earlier-than-anticipated first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament courtesy of a 16-15 loss to visiting Army Saturday night before an announced 1,932 at SECU Stadium magnified some of the cracks that began to show in the Terps’ foundation.


After fortifying the goalkeeper position following the loss of senior Logan McNaney to a torn ACL in a 12-7 setback at Loyola Maryland on Feb. 11, freshman Brian Ruppel (Catonsville) looked every bit of a player making his first postseason appearance and made only five saves.

Entering the game ranked 11th in the country in faceoff percentage, senior Luke Wierman was outdueled by Black Knights sophomore Will Coletti in a pivotal first quarter that put Maryland in a 7-2 hole after the first 15 minutes.


And an offense that lost five of six starters from a unit that set an NCAA record for assists in a single season (204), was flustered by Army senior goalie Knox Dent, who made a game-high 16 saves.

“A lot of ups and downs and even tonight didn’t start great, but the way we battled kind of just summed up what this group did all year,” said graduate student defenseman Brett Makar, who played without defensive teammate Ajax Zappitello (right arm) for the fourth consecutive game. “Handling adversity whether it was injuries, having to plug guys into the lineup, Gepp [graduate student long-stick midfielder John Geppert] playing on one leg, guys battling back Monday to Friday just to be able to play on Saturday, that’s just the kind of group we had. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and I know the program is in great hands going forward.”

Maryland's Daniel Maltz is guarded by Army's Christian Mazur near the goal in the second quarter of Saturday's first-round NCAA Tournament game.

Maryland became the first defending national champion to lose in the first round since 2017 when North Carolina fell, 15-12, to No. 8 seed Albany. The Terps also lost in the first round for the first time since a 16-8 decision to Cornell on May 12, 2013, ending a string of eight consecutive quarterfinal appearances. It was the first loss as a top-four seed in its first NCAA Tournament game since a 12-11 loss to Towson in the 2001 quarterfinals.

With setbacks to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament final on May 6 and now Army in their last two games, the Terps also dropped two in a row for the first time since back-to-back losses to Johns Hopkins on April 27 and May 2, 2019.

The Black Knights ousted Maryland despite taking 15 fewer shots, committing 10 more turnovers and failing on four clears. But they got Dent’s strong outing, and Coletti won just one fewer faceoff than Wierman and picked up eight ground balls to Wierman’s 11.

“We saw the draw on Sunday and started watching film and we knew we had a really good team, an awesome team, one of the better teams in the tournament,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “So we knew we would have our hands full, and that’s exactly what we got. I give them a ton of credit. They are as advertised. They play hard, they’re skilled, they’re tough, they’re opportunistic, they’re unselfish, they battle you.”

Army men's lacrosse players run onto the field at the start of Saturday's NCAA Tournament game against Maryland. Army upset the fourth-seeded and defending national champion Terps.

Army (13-3), the Patriot League Tournament champion, advanced to its first NCAA Tournament quarterfinal since 2010. That squad stunned two-time reigning national champion Syracuse, 9-8, in double overtime, but coach Joe Alberici pointed out that hardly anyone outside of the Black Knights stratosphere gave them much of a chance against the Orange.

“I felt like going into this one, we were more evenly matched,” he said. “So it wasn’t maybe quite that way in terms of big-time upsets. It’s still a great feeling, but winning in Division I lacrosse is really hard to do. People like Maryland make it look easy because they’ve been so great for so long. But it’s really hard to do, and when you put yourself into an NCAA Tournament, to get victories is incredibly difficult. So no words for the pride I have in this team and the resilience that they’ve shown throughout.”


Even after the Terps took a 12-11 lead — their first of the game — into the fourth quarter, the Black Knights never trailed again, capitalizing on goals by junior midfielder Jacob Morin and freshman attackman Gunnar Fellows in the final four minutes of regulation to keep Maryland at bay.

Maryland's Luke Wierman, left, and Army's Will Colletti battle for a faceoff in the first quarter of Saturday's first-round NCAA Tournament game.

Despite the absence of junior starting attackman Paul Johnson (28 goals and 14 assists) because of an unspecified injury suffered in Sunday’s 10-8 victory over Loyola Maryland in the Patriot League Tournament final, junior attackman Reese Burek and freshman midfielder Evan Plunkett each compiled one goal and three assists, and sophomore Finn McCullough scored twice while filling in for Johnson.

The Black Knights will meet either No. 5 seed Penn State (9-4) or Ivy League Tournament champion Princeton (8-6) in next Sunday’s quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis at a time to be announced. They haven’t been to the Final Four since the field was expanded to 16 teams in 2003, but confidence won’t be an issue.

“Right now, there’s just a tremendous belief in the room,” said Morin, who scored twice. “When you pair that with unrelenting effort, good things happen. We’re really happy to be here, and we’re not done yet.”

Maryland players huddle at the start of the game.