Maryland players celebrate after their 13-6 win at North Carolina… (Raleigh News & Observer…)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — There was little chance of a blowout with these two men's lacrosse team meeting Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Twice Maryland and North Carolina had met this season, and twice one had rallied from a four-point deficit to earn a thrilling comeback victory. So when Maryland jumped to an early four-goal lead, history taught the Terrapins not to celebrate too soon.
As expected, eighth seed North Carolina rallied, but the Tar Heels never found the offense to keep pace with the Terrapins, who seized control of the third and fourth quarters, to seal a 13-6 victory at Fetzer Field.
"You saw us come back from a four-goal hole," said North Carolina senior defenseman Ryan Flanagan, whose team trailed Maryland by four points March 26 and fought back for an 11-6 win. "We felt the entire time that we had a chance to come back."
Maryland wiped those chances away, showcasing themselves once again as the Atlantic Coast Conference's premier team this season — or at least the team with supreme determination and execution.
The Terps (11-4) advanced to the tournament's quarterfinal round Saturday in Foxborough, Mass. They added another victory over the Heels (10-6) in the teams' third meeting of the year.
Two weeks ago, the Terps defeated the Tar Heels, 7-6, in the semifinals of the ACC tournament before knocking off Duke in the final to secure their fourth conference championship and first since 2005.
Maryland followed that euphoric win at Duke with a lethargic performance in a home loss to Colgate. The Terps worried their coach John Tillman, who "didn't sleep much," he said.
But there was no need for concern.
On Sunday, the Terps blitzed North Carolina, controlling faceoffs and establishing a 16-4 ground-ball advantage by halftime, though they led just 6-4.
"It was tough for us to get any momentum going," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "I think we lost the first five faceoffs. At that point, we were scrambling for possessions, opportunities to make some plays at the offensive end."
The Tar Heels, who were led by senior attackman Billy Bitter's three goals, entered the second half within striking distance of the Terps, but their shots were picked off masterfully by freshman goaltender Niko Amato, who made seven of his 13 saves in the third quarter.
"We felt like we were still there at 6-4," Breschi said. "Their goalie was spectacular."
Maryland junior midfielder Drew Snider added offensive heft for the Terps, scoring a game-high four goals on five shots. He got open all over the field, and senior attackman Ryan Young (game-high three assists) rifled passes to him.
Snider's goal that lifted the Terps to a 7-4 lead with 12:32 remaining in the third quarter served as example of his aggressive efforts. Knifing inside, he was hit on the play, yet managed to score from the ground.
The Terps were highly efficient on offense, finishing the contest with 13 goals on 32 shots. They closed the game with a 32-27 advantage in shots and 27-15 advantage in ground balls.
The Terps also won 16 of 23 faceoffs, led by sophomore midfielder Curtis Holmes (McDonogh), who took 15 of 22.
"We thought faceoffs would be huge," Tillman said. "When you get nine more possessions, it's huge. That's what's going to swing the pendulum because both teams are good."
The Terps were savvy and skilled, though also lucky.
With 1:46 seconds on the clock in the third quarter, they ran a misdirection play known as the hidden-ball trick.
Maryland senior Grant Catalino attackman and senior long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell (Boys' Latin) faked an exchange on the outside, cradling their sticks and drawing North Carolina's defense toward its sideline.
Meanwhile, Farrell slyly carried the ball to the middle of the field and dished to Snider, positioned 10 feet off the goal.
It was a fake that duped both sidelines and the announced crowd of 1,812.
"I think it was a little bit of luck on our side for that one," Snider said. "I saw Farrell. I thought he was going to shoot it, so I went down to kind of get out of his way, create a shooting lane for him. Then I realized I was wide open."
Tillman said he did not call the play. He credited his seniors.
"I'm going to give those guys points for creativity and confidence and making the play," the coach said. "I'm glad it worked. If it didn't, I'd be really upset."