Two big statements made in this young season have catapulted Maryland to the #1 ranking in the second week of March, in what is still a very young season. First, the Terps went to the Carrier Dome and bulldozed then #2 Syracuse 16-8. They returned home last weekend and put on a fantastic defensive performance, suffocating the vaunted Duke attack and downing the then #1 Blue Devils 10-6.
Now, the test is not getting caught up in the early successes and continue to play consistent, smart, and efficient lacrosse in a game that should not cause the fans' hearts to skip a beat. Similar to the Mount Saint Mary's and UMBC games, Maryland is expected to comfortably roll Stony Brook. Stony Brook is a tougher test than those two, but was thoroughly outclassed in their toughest game, vs Duke, and the 14-6 scoreline was flattering. The Terps are expected to show up, play focused, and come away with a comfortable win with tougher tests on the horizon.
Coach Tillman started his weekly press conference by stressing the importance of picking up conference wins. "Always important to get conference wins, and to get one against a team we respect a lot, the defending National Champions, was very important". He also mentioned how he felt execution wise both teams would improve down the stretch of the season. Coach Tillman singled out the performances of both goalies, the face-off men, and Mike Chanenchuk, saying "Mike was really able to shoot us through some of the troubles we had".
He also continued to mention getting better saying "Duke is usually a team that plays their best lacrosse later in the year, and we hope to do that as well. We have to keep getting better, keep working hard, and hope we can learn some lessons, but get some wins along the way". When questioned about how he felt the team developed being #1, he again used Duke as an example of teams getting better as he wants his team to do, and also said he would not vote his team as No. 1 and would give that "honor" to Virginia instead. He was keen to stress that it is early and he doesn't feel the rankings are important this early as it's mainly important to just "get wins".
Last year, Maryland was in the same #1 spot, looking very good after a win over the #1 team (Loyola) and another highly ranked win (Duke). Tillman first mentioned how he felt it was a foolish practice to rank teams this early saying "We're looking at such a small body of work, that if you're ranked #1 and later in the year you struggle or don't achieve what was expected because you were #1 in February and March, people will call it a failure and all that". Tillman also took quite a bit of time mentioning that the thought of burning out players, and lightening the workload and making sure to take care of the players and keeping a watchful eye after physical games and many of the stresses Freshman go through considering how this is a Freshman laden team, was a task they paid quite a bit of attention to; especially after what seemed like potential burnout from last year's team late in the season.
A quick and early start will likely be the biggest key for Maryland in this game as they look to put pressure on Stony Brook and force mistakes from a team under pressure, considering the uphill challenge the Seawolves already face. Maryland got off to a somewhat shaky start last week, turning the ball over and not being able to corral ground balls. Doing those things, along with getting shots off and getting off to a quick start and building an early lead will be very important and likely the biggest factor in this game.
While Maryland's defense is as usual very stout, physical, and anchored by one of (if not the best) goalies in the nation in Niko Amato, the offense can put too much pressure on them and that's what occurred early in the Duke game that Maryland can't afford this week. They have to get good shots, take control of the ball, and get goals vs a shaky two goalie system Stony Brook employs. Amato was peppered in goal quite a bit in the late 1st/early to mid 2nd period and it resulted in quite a bit of loose change in front for Duke and some easy goals. If Maryland can get quality shots, force a tough tempo for Stony Brook to face, and take care of the ball, it should be rather easy sailing.
Stony Brook could pose some issues on the offensive side though, as they have quite a bit of balanced scoring. Five players have 10+ points for the Seawolves, and three have 5 or more goals. The leader of the pack is Sophomore Brody Eastwood who has registered 14 goals on the year. Maryland will have to make sure to play a smart and focused defensive game, as there are a few options on this Stony Brook team that could give them some trouble.
At the end of the day, this is a game Maryland should win comfortably. They should look to get out to a hot start, step on Stony Brook's throat, and come out with a rather easy W. This is a bit of a warning sign to see if this team can keep the pedal to the metal, and stay focused with tougher tests on the horizon, and still nearly 2 months left in the season.
Face-off is set for 1 PM at LaValle Stadium and it will be streamed live for FREE on America East TV. So if you're around, it's a chance to catch the #1 ranked Maryland Terrapins Men's Lacrosse team, free of charge, as they look to continue on early in the season.