EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Saturday’s second semifinal of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Final Four started approximately four hours later than anticipated due to a three-hour, 38-minute weather delay at halftime of the day’s first semifinal between Rutgers and Cornell. The top-seeded Maryland Terrapins returned to their hotel in Hartford and recalibrated before heading back to a waterlogged Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium to take on the fifth-seeded Princeton Tigers.
When Maryland finally took to the field, graduate attacker Keegan Khan looked as ready as could be. The Villanova transfer, making his first Championship Weekend appearance, fired in three goals in the game’s first 9:22, two of which were unassisted.
“It [was] a great atmosphere out there, [I was] pretty excited to be here and really just wanted to come out and play as hard as I could,” Khan said. “We knew we needed to be sharp right out of the gate, and I was just in good spots so I took advantage of it.”
Khan’s third goal was on an extra-man opportunity assisted by fellow graduate transfer Jonathan Donville, who came to Maryland from Cornell — the Terps’ opponent in Monday’s national championship game.
Maryland earned the right to play on Memorial Day, taking down Princeton, 13-8, on Saturday evening in East Hartford Connecticut.
The Terps are now 7-2 in national semifinal games under head coach John Tillman and are just one win shy of becoming the first team in college men’s lacrosse history to finish a season 18-0.
“Credit to an outstanding Maryland team,” Princeton head coach Matt Madalon said. “[They] capitalized on every mistake we made. Heck of a team. Very well-coached.”
Khan’s hat trick set the tone for the rest of the game, which saw the second-least amount of total goals scored in any of Maryland’s games this season. Princeton senior midfielder Luke Crimmins scored the Tigers’ only goal in the games first 15 minutes. Maryland’s defense forced five turnovers in the first quarter, stifling Princeton’s offensive attack that had scored at least four first-quarter goals in each of its last four contests.
One of those five turnovers was forced by fifth-year midfielder Bubba Fairman, who showcased his offensive skillset by taking an intercepted pass coast-to-coast and placing a shot past Princeton senior goalie Erik Peters. Fairman was one of the Terps’ most prolific offensive players over the last four years, but has blossomed in 2022 after transitioning to a new role as a short-stick defensive midfielder.
“Bubba has done a great job for us,” sophomore defenseman Ajax Zappitello said. “He has an offensive background, and any time we’re able to run and get [in] transition, we always want to do that.”
Senior midfielder Kyle Long used his speed to score a goal as well, and Maryland led 5-1 at the end of the first quarter.
Junior midfielder Christian Ronda struck less than a minute into the second quarter, bringing Princeton within three, but the Terps answered with two goals of their own.
The first came from fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas. His skillful bounce shot was the 200th goal of his career, making him the sixth player in NCAA men’s lacrosse history to reach that milestone.
Donville then scored on an extra-man opportunity after an assist from Khan.
The final two goals of the half belonged to the Tigers, though. Freshman attacker Mackesy Coulter found the back of the net, and three minutes later Maryland senior long-stick midfielder John Geppert was flagged for an illegal hit to the head of Princeton senior attacker Chris Brown. Brown seemed no worse for wear despite the forceful check, scoring the last goal of the first half not 20 seconds later, bringing the score to 7-4 in favor of the Terps.
After killing off the remaining time on Geppert’s penalty, Maryland played the third quarter with a vengeance, firing four consecutive goals to start the period.
Wisnauskas started the 4-0 run with 11:36 to go in the quarter, and junior midfielder Jack Brennan followed with a running shot that beat Peters.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, Owen Murphy unleashed a rocket into the top corner of the goal, and then punctuated Maryland’s scoring run with another tally just seven seconds later off an assist from junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman.
Princeton gathered some momentum as the third quarter came to a close with back-to-back goals from junior attacker Alex Slusher and junior midfielder Alexander Vardaro, but the final four minutes of the third quarter stalled with Maryland leading, 11-6.
After six more minutes of scoreless lacrosse, Wisnauskas broke the ice with a high-velocity shot into the top left corner. That goal tied him with Jared Bernhardt for the most career goals in Maryland men’s lacrosse history (202). With just 1:32 remaining, Wisnauskas scored the 203rd goal of his career, making him the program’s all-time goals leader and tying him for the single-season points record with 99 in 2022.
“No,” Tillman said when asked if Wisnauskas even acknowledged his milestone. “He’s just so focused and dialed in and not about individual accomplishments and that’s what I love about him.”
Two Princeton goals in the fourth quarter were not enough to bring the Tigers even with the Terps, who held on for a 13-8 win.
“Happy to be moving on,” Tillman said. “Not our best, per se, but I think you gotta give Princeton a lot of credit [for] that.”
Three things to know
1. Uncharacteristic mistakes. A win is a win — especially at this point of the year — but Saturday was by no means Maryland’s cleanest game. The Terps had 14 unforced turnovers and took three penalties for a total of 180 seconds. They also missed some potential goal-scoring opportunities and struggled to pick up ground balls. Winning a national championship requires pinpoint precision, and Maryland will need to play with more discipline in order to be victorious on Memorial Day.
“Physically, I though there was great effort,” Tillman said. “I just feel like maybe some execution and maybe some decision making wasn’t quite what we’ve been.”
2. Will Maryland be at full strength on Monday? After missing the Terps’ quarterfinal game against Virginia, sophomore midfielder Jack Koras was able to start Saturday’s game against Princeton but left the field during the game, favoring his hamstring. Additionally, graduate short-stick defensive midfielder Roman Puglise had to exit the game with an apparent arm injury and senior defenseman Brett Makar took a big hit.
“We’ll reevaluate tonight and see where he’s at,” Tillman said of Puglise. “You could break his leg and he’ll want to play. He’s [that] type of guy. I love him to death, love his passion, we’re gonna have to protect him from himself.”
Puglise and Makar are All-Americans and are incredibly important to Maryland’s defense, plus Koras is a key piece in the midfield. With hot temperatures expected on Monday, depth will be vital.
3. Logan McNaney showed out. Junior goalie Logan McNaney had arguably the best performance of his career on Saturday, making a career-high 19 saves against a talented Princeton team.
“I think I can speak for all goalies, getting that first save of the quarter or the half in the beginning of the game is huge,” McNaney said. “It gives me the confidence to be able to get the next one.”
He was, of course, aided by Maryland’s plethora of talented defenseman that clogged up passing lanes and blocked shots all game long. A similar effort will be necessary to beat a dangerous Cornell attack.