Can you taste it, Terp fans? If you like it spicy, the Terps were certainly hot. If you like it savory, then you can appreciate all the Terrapins flavors that contributed to the victory mix. And if you like things sweet, well, the 16-8 win by Maryland's men's lacrosse team Saturday over the Bryant Bulldogs was certainly a tasty amuse bouche that anticipated the main course, which is the Terps' third championship weekend appearance in four years. With apologies to my co-authors (I hope you're not spinning in your graves Felice and Boudleaux), here's a bit of a closer look.
Wake Up, Little Charlie
In the build up to the game, much of the conversation focused on the competition between Bryant's Kevin Massa, the NCAA leader in faceoff percentage, and Maryland's Charlie Raffa who came in at number two. From the opening whistle, Raffa left no doubt who was the superior faceoff man.
Ooh, la, la. What else can his friends say about Charlie Raffa's performance at the faceoff ‘X' Saturday? Midway through the first period, Raffa had so dominated Massa that the sophomore had to be thinking about himself and his Bulldogs teammates, "we're in trouble deep." By the end of that first quarter Raffa told Kevin Massa he'd won nine of ten. And when Massa picked up his third faceoff violation of the period, Raffa may have been thinking, "looks like you goofed again."
For the game, Raffa won 14 of his 20 faceoffs before giving way to Jon Garino who won three of seven. Once the Terps had built a comfortable 12-5 lead with five minutes to play in the third period, Maryland Coach John TIllman and his staff opted to give the junior, who has been battling injuries all season, a well deserved rest.
Bye, Bye, Waldt
Pre-game talking point number two was about the battle between two players who would be standing at opposite ends of the field goalies Niko Amato for Maryland and Gunnar Waldt for Bryant. Again, the Bulldogs' player had a slight statistical edge in both save percentage and saves per game over his Maryland counterpart. Again, the Terrapins' player prevailed.
Just as Raffa established his dominance in the first period, the Maryland offense, in perhaps their best quarter of the year, did the same against Waldt. Whether Bryant tried playing man to man or zone, the Terps used excellent screens or sharp, quick, skip passes to shred the Bulldogs' defense. Time and again, the Terps sure were happy, Waldt sure was blue.
Maryland raced out to a 7-1 lead but, perhaps retaining the lesson from their own epic comeback against Cornell a week ago, the Terps never took their collective feet off the collective throttle.Though they ran a more patient, pace controlling offense in the second half when they had a firm grasp on the game, the Terrapins still looked to attack and not allow Bryant any momentum. Only twice before this season had the Bulldogs conceded ten or more goals. Though the Terps had nine by halftime, they added another seven in the second half. That second half output equaled or exceeded, Bryant had yielded in eleven of their previous twenty games this season. Doubtless, Maryland's sixteen total goals left them stunned. And while the Bulldogs' defense cracked as the Terps stepped in, Waldt wilted under the Terrapins' assault. Could he have been looking at his goalkeeper's crosse thinking, "hello emptiness, I feel like I could die?"
All They Had To Do Is Dream
Bryant had likely played their best game of the year in squeezing past the Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome to earn their spot in the quarterfinals. They certainly entered Saturday's contest with visions of their first Final Four a real possibility. They seemed to match the Terrapins strength for strength. But whether it was the five goal, four assist explosion from Mike "CannonChuck" (Chanenchuk) or the hat tricks from JayC "you get Solange" (Jay Carlson), JoeLo (Joe LoCasio), or Connor "Uncanny" Cannizzaro, the Terps left the Bulldogs feeling blue, in the night. They'll need someone to hold them tight. And by late Saturday afternoon all they could do is dream, dream dream dream.
You Thrill Me
Maryland has two wins in the NCAA Tournament. The first was a thrilling comeback victory against Cornell and the second was Saturday's dominating win over Bryant. But an old sports cliche reminds us that "you're never as good as you look when you're winning and you're never as bad as you look when you're losing." The Terps need to keep this in mind if they hope to secure those final two wins and bring home the ultimate prize.
On offense, Jay Carlson's presence on the inside, and Connor Cannizzaro's speed and creativity from behind the net make the outside sniping of Chanenchuk and LoCasio all the more effective. And I haven't even mentioned Matt Rambo or Henry West. On defense, the Terps remain as solid as any unit in the country. And at the faceoff ‘X', though the numbers may still favor Massa, Charlie Raffa is the best in the country right now. Terrapins fans have to hope he can remain as effective and gut out two more games on little rest.
If that offense continues to run the way it did against Bryant, if the defense continues to hold opponents to fewer than 30 shots per game and a shooting percentage in the low thirties as they have the last two games, and if Raffa can stay healthy enough and play as effectively as he has, it's likely the Terps will thrill their fans through and through and end a thirty-nine year championship drought.