Terps earn stripes, finally oust Tigers

Maryland ends Princeton hex, returns to final four

Maryland 11 Princeton 6

NCAA tournament

May 22, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

From the opening minutes at Johnny Unitas Stadium yesterday, when they beat Princeton defenders off the dodge and pelted sophomore goalie Alex Hewit with four quick goals, the Maryland Terrapins were on their way. And even after the Tigers answered with a brief fight, there would be no backing up for the Terps.

As for that history of NCAA tournament futility against the Tigers, forget about it. Maryland rid itself of its Princeton problem with authority. And after whipping the Tigers, 11-6, in a quarterfinal game before 7,269, the Terps are headed to their third final four in the past four seasons.

Second-seeded Maryland (12-4) won for the sixth time in seven games and will take on Massachusetts (12-4) in a national semifinal Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The unseeded Minutemen have knocked off No. 6 seed Cornell and No. 3 seed Hofstra by one goal apiece to advance to their first final four.

Maryland has required no such suspense during its march to Philadelphia. A week after blasting unseeded Denver by eight goals in a first-round rout, the seasoned, athletic Terps broke down the younger Tigers (11-5) in every way.

Princeton's day boiled down to two acts. During a second-quarter stretch spanning 2:57, the Tigers generated a 4-0 run to tie the score at 5 with 8:41 left in the half. From there, Maryland combined good shooting, great ball control and stifling defense, as Princeton went scoreless for the next 38:09, while the Terps scored six straight goals.

Only a goal by freshman midfielder Josh Lesko with 32 seconds left kept Princeton from swallowing a second-half shutout.

Before yesterday, Maryland had lost five times since 1992 in the postseason to Princeton, including that heartbreaking quarterfinal two years ago, when the Terps blew a two-goal advantage in the final two minutes of regulation, before losing in overtime.

You might say that's behind Maryland now.

"We decided we weren't going to dwell on the past. We wanted to focus on this team and what we've done this year," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. "We played smart, we played together, we hustled on ground balls. This was one of the best games Maryland has played this year."

Princeton, which missed the tournament last year for the first time since 1989 and starts just two seniors, looked slow and overmatched for nearly the entire afternoon.

The Tigers could not sustain much offense, with 10 failed clears and 25 turnovers. Maryland owned loose balls and tempo. It took the air out of the ball as it pleased and peppered Hewit (16 saves) with shots at will. The Terps outshot Princeton 44-25 and won the ground ball battle 44-20.

Senior midfielder Brendan Healy, who, much to his delight, drew short-stick midfielder Zach Goldberg early and blew past him before scoring two of the game's first four goals, scored a team-high three goals. It was his fourth hat trick in the past five games. Junior attackman Michael Phipps scored twice, after entering the game with four goals this season. Senior attackman Joe Walters had two goals and two assists.

When they weren't adjusting to Princeton's changing defenses and getting off quality shots out of pick-and-roll plays, the Terps were playing a masterful game of keep-away.

"It was nice to have the offense control it at the other end, because it gave us a little bit of a break," said Maryland senior defenseman Steve Whittenberg, the anchor of a defense that has allowed 6.4 goals per game. "When [the ball] was back at our end, we were fresh."

After Maryland took Princeton's best shot, it responded by taking control of the game once and for all. Freshman midfielder Dan Groot, with an assist from sophomore midfielder Drew Evans, bounced an 8-yarder by Hewit for a 6-5 lead with 5:42 left in the half. Nearly three minutes later, Phipps dodged free on the right wing and scored from 5 yards for a 7-5 halftime lead.

When Healy buried a 12-yarder five minutes into the third quarter, the Terps were up 8-5 and in command.

"There were some edges I wouldn't like to talk about, and Maryland's experience is one of them," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "We just didn't handle the ball well under pressure. Maybe next year, we'll be the experienced team."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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