EAST HARTFORD, CONN. — Top-seeded Maryland men’s lacrosse played perhaps its worst game of the season, and the Terps still beat No. 5 seed Princeton, 13-8, in an NCAA Division I tournament semifinal.
That’s how dominant Maryland has been all season. The Terps (17-0) usually bring their “A” game, but they played down to Princeton’s level and still beat the Tigers (11-5) by five goals to return to the NCAA championship game for the seventh time in 11 tournaments.
Maryland got away with it Saturday but might struggle or even lose against No. 7 seed Cornell (14-4), which beat No. 6 seed Rutgers, 17-10, in the first semifinal at Rentschler Field. The Big Red is fundamentally sound, has solid goalkeeping in Chayse Ierlan, can be aggressive on defense and very deliberate on offense.
Maryland can play any style, but the Terps made some uncharacteristically bad mistakes Saturday. They were selfish on offense trying to play too much one-on-one, and their long-pole defensemen got greedy trying to score when they should have settled the ball and run some clock. They couldn’t get the ball out cleanly on fast breaks and were too physical at times, which resulted in some unnecessary penalties.
Obviously, Maryland coach John Tillman was happy with the win, but not the overall performance. This is the time of year when great teams peak.
“We won, we always look at each game, what we did well, what we didn’t do well,” Tillman said. “It’s a semifinal game, and you expect it to be tough, but we won the game by five goals and didn’t feel like we played great. We have to catch ourselves and realize we didn’t play to our own standard. We didn’t play to the best of our ability.
“That’s what most coaches would emphasize. Physically, the effort was great, just some execution and decision-making wasn’t what we’ve been doing. When that happens, we talk about [it] and hopefully everybody responds because we’re going to need to do that for sure Monday.”
Maryland won because its defense was superb and goalie Logan McNaney finished with a career-high 19 saves. The Terps also opened the third quarter with four straight goals, including two in a row from attackman Owen Murphy, the second of which put Maryland ahead 11-4 with 7:58 remaining.
Before then, Maryland had to endure several delays because of stormy weather, which forced the starting time to be moved back three and a half hours later than expected. Because of the pressure of the Terps’ undefeated season, the extra time sitting around might have caused some anxious moments.
Maryland didn’t buckle.
“We had to keep it in our minds that we were going to play,” McNaney said. “We knew we had to deal with it better than Princeton, so we just got some food, some rest and were ready to go.”
Senior attackman Logan Wisnauskas had four goals and fellow senior attackman Keegan Khan added three goals and two assists for the Terps, who are seeking their fourth national title and first since 2017. Midfielder Alexander Vardaro had two goals to lead Princeton.
The Tigers scored two goals in the last five minutes of the second quarter, including one on an extra-man opportunity as a result of long-stick midfielder John Geppert getting a three-minute unreleasable penalty for a hit to the head with 1:59 remaining. Princeton senior attackman Chris Brown scored on a shot outside of goal line 17 seconds later.
Maryland won the ensuing faceoff but Luke Wierman (13-for-22) lost the ball, forcing McNaney to make a save at the other end. After forcing another turnover, Princeton held the ball to take possession as the Terps went into the half with a 7-4 lead.
In the first quarter, Khan was unstoppable, scoring the first three goals. He beat defender Colin Mulshine from behind the goal to score with 12:08 left in the quarter, then scored off a reverse cradle move from 12 yards out to put the Terps ahead, 2-1, with 9:42 remaining. His third goal came off an extra-man opportunity with 4:56 left and midfielder Bubba Fairman scored nearly four minutes later to push Maryland’s lead to 5-1 at the end of the quarter.
Maryland went ahead by as many as five goals, 7-2, on a shot from midfielder Jonathan Donville midway in the second period, but Princeton attackman Coulter Mackesy scored unassisted with 5:05 remaining, which was a prelude to Geppert’s penalty and Brown’s goal.
NCAA Tournament championship
MARYLAND VS. CORNELL
at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.
Monday, 1 p.m.