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Maryland erased a four-goal deficit to move on to the NCAA semifinals.

Maryland Reaches NCAA Semifinals for 29th Time in Program History

May 18, 2024
Patrick Stevens
Alexis Friedman

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Maryland had already maneuvered out of one tough spot on its trip to Long Island for the NCAA quarterfinals, and more than a few during an uneven season.

What was tacking on another during the actual game against Duke?

The seventh-seeded Terrapins erased an early four-goal hole, dominating possession in the second half to upend the second-seeded Blue Devils 14-11 before 9,086 at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

Daniel Maltz scored four goals — including one with 3:03 left thanks to replay review — and Luke Wierman won 20 of 29 faceoffs for Maryland (10-5).

The Terps limped into the postseason after scoring 14 goals in back-to-back losses. The last two Saturdays, Maryland delivered 30 goals, an offensive renaissance that has it in the NCAA semifinals for the 29th time in program history, tied with Johns Hopkins for the most ever.

“When we’ve been bad, we’ve been bad,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “We own it. We’ve had some stinkers. At times we’ve looked really good, and at times we’ve looked really bad. Sometimes, that’s week to week. Sometimes, it’s quarter to quarter, like that Penn State game [in late March]. We always kept saying to them, ‘If we can just put this together and clean some things up, it’s fine.’”

The Terps will face either Hopkins or Virginia in next Saturday’s semifinals in Philadelphia.

Dyson Williams scored six goals to finish his career with 212 — tying Justin Guterding for the most in program history — for the Blue Devils (13-6), who led 7-3 in the first half and maintained a 9-6 edge deep into the third quarter.

Brennan O’Neill, last year’s Tewaaraton Award winner and a finalist this season, had three goals on seven shots in his last college game. His 307 points and 207 goals both rank third in Duke history. He was one of 19 Blue Devils — including 11 fifth-year seniors utilizing a bonus year of eligibility because of the NCAA’s pandemic waiver — to conclude their Blue Devil careers.

“They came back to play lacrosse and they came back to play next weekend, and to be together,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “That’s always been our rally. Relationships are the ultimate of playing a sport in college, and so the kids were crushed.”

The Blue Devils appeared well-positioned to move on to the semifinals for the second year in a row as they physically overwhelmed Maryland at both ends of the field in the first half. The Terps had 11 first-half turnovers, and Williams scored four times as Duke built an 8-5 lead at the break.

Considering Logan McNaney made five of his 11 saves in the first quarter and Wierman was getting the better of play, it could have been worse for Maryland. And the Terps had already extricated themselves from a dicey situation on the trip when a bus carrying their defensive players broke down on a highway in the Bronx just shy of Yankee Stadium.

“Great situation,” Wierman deadpanned.

Ultimately, Maryland was able to hail enough Ubers to get everyone and their equipment to the team hotel. On Saturday, it just called on Wierman to tilt the field in the second half.

The first three minutes of the second half proved indicative of what was to come. Wierman won the faceoff, setting up a possession that was ultimately extended when the Terps maintained control after a save. Duke eventually forced a turnover but botched a clear five seconds later, and Maltz scored to start the process of wearing down the Blue Devils’ defense.

Wierman went 11 of 14 on faceoffs in the second half and is 40 for 55 in two NCAA tournament games.

“Knowing that Luke just kept getting us possessions, it allowed our offense to just keep working and working,” Tillman said. “It put a lot of pressure on the other team’s defense.”

Still, it felt like a win when Duke scored next, a Williams goal with 2:40 left in the third quarter. Maryland was back to staring at a three-goal hole, even though it largely controlled the ball.

But then Jack Brennan scored just as the shot clock expired on the next possession, a call Danowski didn’t challenge because he didn’t want to burn a timeout in case he was wrong. That ignited a four-goal run for the Terps, who went ahead for the first time on Braden Erksa’s goal with 10:16 left that made it 10-9.

Duke would knot it two more times, including an impressive O’Neill goal to make it 11-11. Maltz deposited a slick Zach Whittier feed with 5:01 left to put the Terps ahead, then appeared to have added an insurance goal with 3:03 to go — only for officials to not rule a score.

Instead, the Maryland bench erupted with coaches trying to get the attention of officials as Duke tried to clear. That proved a bit too demonstrative for Duke’s staff which was less than enthused when the referees did stop play to re-examine the play.

“It was under four, so I can’t challenge it [by rule],” said Tillman, who nonetheless threw his red flag for good measure. “That’s where I was running over, and I was probably on the field, which is probably not a good thing. I was just trying to get their attention because I was like, ‘We need to review this — it’s under four, and it’s up to you.’”

Officials ultimately ruled Maltz’s shot, which hit the crossbar and bounced down, landed inside the white goal line.

“I hate replay,” Danowski said. “I don’t like it in any sport. We’re human beings, we’re playing a game and to me there’s no place for technology in our sport. But I get it. We have to keep up with the times. But their whole team jumped on the field, we’re playing the game. The referees didn’t signal; the one official was counting for the goal and had possession in the crease. The coach ran into one of our players. That’s not a great look, I think, for our sport.”

The expanded replay rule is in its first year, in large part because of a goal Duke scored to win its NCAA semifinal last year was not reviewable even though it appeared the Blue Devils’ Garrett Leadmon was in the crease.

Saturday’s reviewed goal made it 13-11, and Jack Koras’ empty-netter with 33.6 seconds left iced it for Maryland, which shot 7 of 12 in the fourth quarter. The Terps were 7 of 27 in the first 45 minutes.

This was a far different path to Memorial Day weekend than Maryland has taken in many of its recent trips. In four of its five semifinal appearances between 2016 and 2022, it was the tournament’s No. 1 seed. In the other, it was undefeated.

The road was far bumpier this time, and Maryland’s streak of 10-win seasons (excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 year) appeared in serious peril when it lost 7-5 at Johns Hopkins to close the regular season and was blitzed 19-9 by Penn State two weeks later in the Big Ten semifinals in its most lopsided loss since 2006.

Instead, the Terps have now reached double-figure victories in every full season since 2003, and they improved to 10-1 in NCAA quarterfinals under Tillman. It is Maryland’s lowest-seeded semifinalist since 2014, when it was also a No. 7 seed, and it is also the first team with at least five regular-season losses to advance to the final weekend since North Carolina had six in 2016.

“With it your last go round, it just gives you a greater perspective for everything and just greater appreciation,” defenseman Ajax Zappittello said.

While Maryland savored what has become a program rarity — a surprise run to the final four — Duke was left to ponder on the missed opportunities of a lost season. The Blue Devils were unpredictable all year, often playing their best games right after some of their biggest clunkers.

That inconsistency was on display right to the final game, and Duke’s fine first half wasn’t enough to seal a trip to Philadelphia next weekend. A second half that saw the Blue Devils outshot 24-9 and beat 20-9 on ground balls helped spell the end of their season.

“They outplayed us in the goal,” Danowski said. “They outplayed us on the ground. They were the better team today, for sure.”