Maryland Shakes Off Mistakes, Downs Princeton to Set Up Chance for History

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Even by its own accounting, Saturday was not the cleanest day for Maryland’s top-seeded men’s lacrosse team.

Too many turnovers. Probably not the best decision making. Three penalties, including one that put the Terps in a precarious (by their standards) position.

And still, Maryland was largely unthreatened in a 13-8 victory over fifth-seeded Princeton at Rentschler Field.

It was a methodical and largely forgettable penultimate step toward a perfect season for the Terps (17-0), who will face seventh-seeded Cornell (14-4) in Monday’s title game.

“It’s a semifinal game, so you expect it to be tough,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “We won the game by five goals and we didn’t even feel like we played great. Sometimes we have to catch ourselves and be like ‘That’s a good team we just beat.’”

Logan Wisnauskas scored four goals to set the program record for career goals, Keegan Khan had three goals and two assists and Logan McNaney stopped a career-high 19 shots for Maryland, which never trailed and defeated Princeton for the second time this season.

The Tigers (11-5) didn’t have a multi-goal scorer until Alexander Vardaro found the net for the second time with 55 seconds left. Erik Peters made 13 saves as Princeton largely hung around but never seriously threatened after the early stages of the third quarter.

It started as a typical Maryland blitz, up 5-1 after a quarter and seemingly on its way to yet another blowout. The lead expanded to 7-2 by the middle of the second quarter, but Princeton got one back on Coulter Mackesy’s goal with 5:05 left in the half.

“We've kind of been there before, been through a lot of up and downs, been all over the place this season,” Peters said. “We had all the trust in the world in each other and just the next play, and I think that kind of mentality let us get back in the game and keep going.”

Then came the Tigers’ big break: A three-minute illegal body check penalty on Maryland long pole John Geppert with 1:59 left in the half, with full time served. It meant Princeton would have a stretch spanning halftime to chip away at Maryland’s lead with a man advantage.

The Tigers got one back quickly, as Chris Brown scored his only goal of the day. But Maryland held Princeton in check until halftime, and the Tigers were content to hold the ball for the final 45 seconds of the quarter to avoid the faceoff to start the third. But they came up empty then, too, and also managed nothing on the 30-second man-up for a push that started just after Geppert’s penalty expired.

“We overcommunicated, and that was kind of what we were trying to do,” McNaney said. “Out there it was a little loud, but props to our defensive guys. I don’t think they got a shot on goal in that three-minute period [after the goal]. … I think that was very big for us in terms of momentum. Our offense and defense kind of fed on that.”

From there, Maryland needed just one burst — and it quickly got it. On its first possession of the third quarter, Wisnauskas took a Jonathan Donville feed on the crease and beat Peters to restore a four-goal edge.

A few moments later, Maryland rattled off three goals in 61 seconds, including a pair of Owen Murphy goals over seven seconds to make it 11-4.

“Those were critical in the third quarter,” Tillman said.

No one has defeated Maryland this season, but Princeton at least made things respectable on two occasions. The Tigers dropped a 15-10 decision on Feb. 26, and then Saturday became only the second team in the Terps’ last 12 games to stick within five goals.







In between, Princeton defeated Georgetown and Rutgers for some early signature victories, then appeared on the way to contending for an Ivy League title before losses to Harvard and Cornell to close the regular season.

Those cost the Tigers a berth in the Ivy tournament, but they also allowed Princeton to engage in “upgrade season” during the unexpected open weekend in early May. Some tweaks fueled victories over Boston University and Yale to earn the program its first trip to championship weekend since 2004.

The gap between the next trip probably won’t be as long, especially with so much of a young roster returning. It reminded Tigers coach Matt Madalon a bit of his own college career at Division III Roanoke, which he helped lead to the 2006 semifinals.

“[I] saw just how it impacted when that next team returned, the expectations, the standards, the ability to understand how to truly practice and really not — you can't really waste days, can't really make those mistakes,” Madalon said. “Hopefully it does. Hopefully the toughness and the leadership of this senior class that carried us for this opportunity to this weekend will really have a lasting impact on the program, and I think it will.”

For its part, Maryland has a more immediate impact to make. As much as it has dodged questions about its place in a discussion of the best teams of all time, there is an immediacy facing the Terps.

They have an injury issue since short-stick defensive midfielder Roman Puglise left late in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. Tillman was noncommittal about his availability for Monday.

They’re coming off a rare so-so day; their 19 turnovers were a season-high.

And there’s also the matter that Monday’s game will dictate how this Maryland team will be remembered more than the 17 previous games put together.

Win, and the Terps will take a victory lap with the bonus of becoming the first undefeated champion since 2006 Virginia. Lose, and it’s a second consecutive Memorial Day disappointment for a program that has become the first to send an unbeaten team to the final day of the season in consecutive years since 1981-82 North Carolina.

“We're really not into the comparison game,” Tillman said. “People, if they have that extra time and they want to compare us to other things, we really can't get caught up in that. We just need to be the best version of ourselves, and I think our guys have a sense of that.”

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