It was a collapse of epic proportions Sunday afternoon, as Maryland women’s lacrosse choked away a four-goal lead to No. 7-seed James Madison in the final minutes of the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps controlled the pace for the majority of the contest before a flurry of offense by the Dukes overwhelmed them. The sideline watched idly as the time ticked off the clock in the final minute following a James Madison go-ahead score. Maryland failed to move on to the quarterfinals, losing to James Madison, 15-14, in heartbreaking fashion.
Slowly but surely, the Dukes mounted a ridiculous comeback. Despite winning just four draw controls in the fourth quarter, their defense was able to aid the offense in getting more possessions by forcing three Maryland turnovers.
In addition, Buchanan had three timely stops in the final frame, while Sterling failed to make just one.
“She did come up with some crucial interceptions and ground balls,” head coach Cathy Reese said of Sterling. “I just think she’s awesome. She’s a great goalie, and I’m excited she’s back for a fifth year next year.”
An improbable conclusion to a supremely dramatic game ensued, as the Dukes took the lead with one minute to go despite trailing by six and a half minutes remaining. After a timeout, the Terps were unable to match James Madison’s push.
“A couple of draws kind of went their way and a couple shots went in and it just hurt to get caught on our heels,” Reese said. “It was a hard-fought game both ways.”
Maryland’s seventh loss of the season ties the most under Reese in a single campaign since she took over in 2007.
James Madison controlled the opening draw control and attacked immediately and aggressively. The Terps were feisty on defense, double-teaming on the perimeter.
As the shot clock wound down, James Madison midfielder Lizzy Fox made a fantastic dodge through the seam of Maryland’s defense and capped it off with a superb finish.
The Terps won the next draw control. However, the offense was quickly stoned, as a beautiful save by goalkeeper Kat Buchanan put an end to the possession. Good defense turned into even better offense, as the Dukes earned a free position.
Instead of shooting right away, the attack opted to settle things down. It proved to be a wise decision, as star redshirt junior attacker Isabella Peterson eventually gave James Madison a 2-0 lead. With her length and physicality, she shrugged off the Maryland defenders who stood in her path to the cage.
The Terps struggled on its first few offensive possessions, making uncharacteristically sloppy passes and seemingly unable to find a rhythm. It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the opening frame before Maryland first struck. Junior attacker Eloise Clevenger roamed behind the net before firing a tight-window pass to the cutting junior Shannon Smith, who capitalized.
The Terps came alive late in the first quarter, as senior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn twice found a soft spot in the Dukes’ zone defense for scores. With 14 seconds left, James Madison knotted the score at three apiece.
Maryland made James Madison work diligently on its first offensive possession. The Dukes attempted to operate from behind the cage, but the Terps were keyed in on their defensive switches and didn’t allow for any picks to spring open looks.
Each program scored back-to-back goals in the ensuing action, with freshman midfielder Kori Edmondson and Peterson trading scores. Edmondson, who scored just two goals in the Big Ten Tournament, asserted herself nicely in the opening half against the Dukes.
James Madison tied the score at 5-5 after a successful free position shot by attacker Maddie Epke. The Terps had been conservative in their defensive approach, managing to withhold fouling inside the eight-meter arc.
The goal sparked another energetic Dukes possession, as Peterson took over on attack. She straddled the crease and spun around a Maryland defender before finishing high. With an early hat trick, Peterson had already surpassed her total of two goals in James Madison’s previous affair with the Terps.
The last few minutes of the frame were chock-full of great offense. Senior attacker Hannah Leubecker scored twice and highlighted her shooting capabilities, cashing in on a sizzler from around the 12-meter fan.
Kori Edmondson scored minutes later on an eight-meter opportunity, her 10th hat trick of the season and first in over a month.
“She’s a competitor and we saw her really step up in big moments,” Reese said. “We were going to put the ball in her stick because we have all the confidence in the world in her.”
The Terps took an 8-7 lead into the locker room in an exciting, fast-paced and lively contest.
Senior attacker Libby May scored the opening goal of the second half. She was kept quiet in the first two frames. Fox responded quickly for the Dukes, rocketing a shot past Maryland goalkeeper Emily Sterling.
But the Terps staved off any hope of an early third quarter James Madison scoring run, as Leubecker notched a hat trick to put Maryland up 10-8.
Buchanan kept the Dukes in the game, making two key stops in the frame. Without her heroics, the game could have quickly gotten out of hand. She gave James Madison every opportunity to turn the tide, but Maryland continued pouring it on.
Maryland was shut down on its last possession of the quarter as it tried to work through one of its offensive sets. Nonetheless, the Terps’ third-quarter takeover gave them a hefty four-goal lead heading into the final frame.
Peterson gave the Dukes a serious offensive boost the start the fourth quarter, scoring twice in the first few minutes to cut the Terps’ lead down to two.
Initially, Maryland’s resolve was unwavering. Each unit kept their foot on the gas and stayed focus. Goals by May and junior attacker Chrissy Thomas gave the Terps a four-goal lead.
After that, the issues began for Maryland, and the Dukes blitzed back to mount an improbable late-game comeback and end the Terps’ season.
“You know, we have gone through a lot you know, on the field and off the field,” Reese said. “I think just the relationships that these guys have built is really just powerful.”
Three things to know
1. Fourth-quarter collapse. In the fourth quarter, the Terps had a commanding four-goal lead. Heading into the final period, the Dukes had just 13 shots on goal. However, behind Peterson’s seven scores, and nine fourth quarter shots, James Madison kicked into an extra gear on both sides of the ball to secure an unlikely win.
“She’s a great player and she obviously shot lights-out today,” Reese said of Peterson. “We really just tried to focus on team defense and trying to get slides to people when they were dodging.”
2. Back-and-forth game early. The Terps and the Dukes traded scores for the entirety of the opening half. As soon as one team pulled ahead, the opposing squad almost always stormed back to take the lead. In the first two periods, Maryland had 17 shots to James Madison’s 12.
3. Spreading the zone defense. James Madison is notorious for deploying one of the most formidable zone defenses in the nation. It ranked third in the country with a 7.3 goals against average.
However, the Terps had a plan heading into the match. By spreading out the zone defense, it opened up a number of cutting lanes for players like May to enter. In addition, it kept James Madison from being able to double the Terps’ midfielders and attackers on the perimeter.