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A Tale of Two Halves: Looking at Maryland's 8-7 win over Cornell

After Cornell jumped out to a 4-0 lead an epic lacrosse game followed and Maryland put together a second half for the ages to nab an 8-7 win and move on to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

Terps seniors celebrate their last win at Byrd 8-7 over Cornell in the NCAA Tournament
Terps seniors celebrate their last win at Byrd 8-7 over Cornell in the NCAA Tournament

Let me paraphrase Charles Dickens: It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves, it was the age of wise play, it was the age of foolish play, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Hofstra, we were all going direct to Looney's to drink our sadness away.

Perhaps for Maryland fans, Saturday's first round men's lacrosse game against Cornell was also a bit like the weather. The forecasted rain showers arrived in College Park about forty minutes prior to game time and the sky remained gray and a bit ominous throughout most of the half which Cornell won by a  5-1 tally.

By the start of the second half, the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining on Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. When the Terps scored first, the gray mood began to lift off the contingent of Maryland fans as well. Maryland won the second half 7-2. Add the two halves together and the final game score is Maryland 8 and Cornell 7. This year, it's the Terps and not the Big Red who will be moving on the the quarterfinals. Those interested in a play by play recap, can find one written by TT's own Jake Nazar here.

Is this really happening?

"We knew we were going to be in for a battle and we certainly had one," Maryland coach John Tillman said after the game. In one of the great understatements of the day he added, "They took it to us. We did not start very well. We played very rushed in the first half. We didn't play with a lot of poise. The game was a little fast for us and we were trying to do things that weren't there."

Really coach? Every one of my game notes from the first half is relentlessly negative. They read like a litany of how to lose a lacrosse game:

Poor shot selection.

Stop shooting in traffic.

Move guys. Offense is stagnant.

Try moving the goalie on shots rather than aiming for his crosse.

How many sloppy turnovers is that?

Not enough winning ground balls or faceoffs.

Slow to slide on defense.

Donovan pretty much having his way with Murray.

And the numbers backed up my notes. Maryland had 18 first half shots and 1 first half goal. Cornell's freshman goalie, Christian Knight despite coming into the game with only a .535 save percentage, looked like he had engaged Merlin, King Arthur, and the entire Round Table to guard the net with him.

The Big Red had a 4-3 edge in faceoffs plus a free one following a Maryland penalty and ground balls were tied at ten. Had the Terps not had their own magician, Niko Amato, in goal matching Knight save for save, the deficit could have much larger.

Cornell's early game defense had no need of Maryland's assistance. Twice before this season they had held opponents scoreless for longer than twenty minutes to open a game. Saturday, the Terrapins became the third team on that list and the one that needed the most time to score - 23:59 on a goal by Mike Chanenchuk. Perhaps, some might have begun thinking, Maryland momentum was in the offing.

Then the Terps squandered an extra man opportunity (EMO) and just before the half ended Cornell's Matt Donovan beat Goran Murray one on one for the third time in the half to register his eighth hat trick of the season. When the horn sounded, that 5-1 gap looked wider than four goals.

How wide did the gap look? Here's the opening paragraph as I wrote it at halftime for this story:

There's no righting the ship this time. For the second consecutive year the unseeded Cornell Big Red came to One Field at Byrd Stadium to face a seeded Maryland team and for the second consecutive year, Cornell advanced to the second round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament at Maryland's expense. In 2013 the Big Red dominated the Terps in a 16-8 win. Saturday evening, the xx-xx score was closer but the end result was the same - Maryland's season came to a disappointingly early end.

And then the sun

My first note for the second half reads: Terps on fire early. And it was Raffa at the faceoff ‘X', the wings and long sticks - Brian Cooper and Michael Ehrhardt - getting to ground balls that fueled Maryland's flames and opened the game up for the young guns to carry the scoring burden. Although Jay Carlson picked up Maryland's first second half goal, it came as a rebound off a shot from freshman Matt Rambo. The Terps next five goals came from Rambo, Connor Cannizzaro (another freshman), Rambo, Rambo, and Cannizzaro again. Cannizzaro's score knotted the game at seven.

Of course, the freshmen had the assistance of Mike Chanenchuk who assisted on each of the rookies' first goals while playing through the pain of the ankle sprain he suffered in the ACC semifinal against Notre Dame. Though he had some rough moments, Chanenchuk had two more heroic plays in store for the Terrapins' faithful. (Or, in my case, faithless?)

So what happened in the locker room at halftime? According to Tillman, "We told them it's a game of runs. Last week their game with Penn was a very streaky game. They outscored Penn, I think 5-0 in the third and Penn outscored them 4-0 in the fourth. So we told them you've got twice as much time. There's plenty of time but you have to believe and you have to get back to doing the little things and hopefully enough little things become big things."

In addition to Tillman, Tyler Adelsberger - a senior team captain whose time in College Park has been marred with injuries and sacrifices - also spoke to the team and apparently did so quite forcefully and emotionally about stepping up the effort in the second half.

In addition to the scoreboard, the second half stat sheet also reflected the Terps' domination. Maryland picked up seventeen ground balls to Cornell's ten while winning the faceoff battle eight to two. After missing all three of their first half EMOs, Maryland was a perfect two for two in the second half. And that 1 for 18 first half shooting morphed into 7 for 24 in the second.

It's the Final Countdown

With just over a minute to play, Maryland's defense which had been nearly impenetrable in the second half, and which had preyed on Cornell's growing frustration as the Terps fashioned their comeback, made another key play blocking Connor Buczek's shot and corralling the ground ball. The Terps successfully cleared the ball into the offensive zone with 1:23 left in regulation. They worked the ball around and with 53 seconds left, Tillman called timeout.

Asked if the events in Chester influenced his decision regarding when to stop the clock, Tillman replied, "We actually had one of their offensive midfielders on defense, Johnny Hogan, who's a terrific offensive player but they don't get caught on a whole lot. We had Isiah Davis-Allen on and we were willing to trade our defensive midfielder for having their offensive guy on. We had it for awhile and I was starting to sense they might put a timer on so we conceded that little advantage. As soon as we called the timeout I went over and had a quick conversation with the officials. We knew that they couldn't slap it on much before thirty seconds left. I think they put it on with 31 seconds.

When Cornell's defense blocked Brian Cole's shot with 11 seconds remaining, Chanenchuk came up with the first of his heroic moments fighting off the Big Red to get control of the ground ball with 9 seconds left to play. Tillman then used his last timeout.

"We looked and knew we didn't have a lot of time, and we knew we were either going to have to dodge either that top-middle or righty-alley. Because they had not taken away that righty-alley we carried it up. We just ran a simple exchange on the backside with Henry West. If they didn't slide, Henry was going to shoot it, but we had multiple options, and we thought we had some good people in good sports. Jay Carlson was inside and Michael Chanenchuk is obviously a good shooter, so we just knew we had to do something that was going to be a short-time play and Coach Moran did a great job of getting the guys organized and putting them in good spots."

With 4 seconds left, West made the pass across to Chanenchuk. With 3.5 seconds left, Chanenchuk was thinking, "The clock was winding down. For a goalie it is most difficult when the ball is swinging all the way across, so I just thought if I can catch it and get it off quick I can have the advantage on the goalie." With 3 seconds left, the ball landed in Chanenchuk's crosse. With 2.5 seconds left, the shot was headed toward the goal. With 2 seconds left when Chanenchuk was thinking, "I guess I got a little lucky there," Maryland led for the first, only and most important time in the game. Said Tillman, "If we had shot that ball with 1 second left, I don't think it would have counted. That's how close, sometimes, winning and losing is."

Now it's on to Hofstra where the Terps will take on the winner of tomorrow's game between the Bryant Bulldogs and the second seeded Syracuse Orange. The winner's prize will be a trip to Baltimore and the Final Four.