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Big Ten Tournament championship preview: Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Michigan

The Terps are seeking their third straight conference championship.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

No. 3-seed Maryland men’s lacrosse takes on No. 4-seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament championship game Saturday at Homewood Field.

The Terps have played some of their best lacrosse over the past week, defeating Rutgers, 14-11, in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals and Johns Hopkins, 14-9, in the semifinals.

Maryland dominated Rutgers from the get-go, but had to crawl out of an early 3-0 deficit against Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, Michigan overcame No. 5-seed Ohio State, 14-10, in the quarterfinals, and then upset No. 1-seed Penn State, 17-15, in the semifinals.

The championship game between will begin at 5:30 p.m. and air on Big Ten Network.

What happened last time

Maryland and Michigan last met on April 1. The Terps entered the matchup on a three-game winning streak and were the No. 2 ranked team in the country, while Michigan was unranked and on a two-game losing streak.

Maryland struck first, as junior attackman Daniel Kelly flung the ball in from 12 yards out. But the Wolverines quickly retaliated with a 5-0 run, and held a four-goal lead heading into the second quarter.

The Terps nearly erased the deficit in the second period. Seniors Jack Brennan and Daniel Maltz kickstarted the second quarter with a bang, scoring within 25 seconds of each other. Michigan senior attackman Josh Zawada countered with his second goal of the game, but Maryland junior defenseman Ajax Zappitello and senior midfielder Kyle Long each found the back of the net to cut the lead to one.

Just when it seemed like the Terps were back in it, Michigan opened the second half with a 3-0 run. Freshman attackman Braden Erksa tallied two goals in the third quarter, yet the Wolverines still maintained a three-goal lead.

Maltz scored the first goal of the fourth quarter in a man-up opportunity, but it was immediately followed by a 4-0 Michigan run, ending the Terps’ hopes of victory.

What’s happened since

Since its senior day loss against Michigan, the Terps have won four of their last five games.

Maryland instantly bounced back with an overtime win against Ohio State, 12-11, in which Erksa scored the game-winning goal and Kelly tallied four goals.

The Terps then matched up against Rutgers. They dominated the Scarlet Knights through the first three quarters, but Rutgers scored three unanswered goals and made things interesting in the final frame. Maryland still came out on top, though, 11-8.

Now sitting at the top of the Big Ten standings, all Maryland needed to do was defeat Johns Hopkins and it would be awarded the Big Ten regular season-title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. “The Rivalry” had different plans, however, as the Blue Jays defeated Maryland, 12-11, for the first time since 2019.

After winning both of their Big Ten Tournament games, the Terps take on an upset-minded Michigan squad.

The Wolverines, on the other hand, lost their first two games after defeating Maryland. The first came in overtime against Rutgers, and the second was against Penn State, in which Michigan surrendered five unanswered goals in the fourth quarter.

The Wolverines are currently on a three-game winning streak, playing their best offense of the year.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland survive without two of its top defenders? Zappitello, an All-Big Ten defender, and graduate long-stick midfielder John Geppert are banged up. Zappitello wore a sling on his right arm as he watched Thursday’s game from the sidelines, while Geppert received limited playing time. With Michigan averaging 16.67 goals over the last three games, Maryland’s defense will need to be sharp.

“[We are] really embracing that next man up mentality,” graduate defenseman Brett Makar said. “[I] kind of just have confidence in whoever’s out there that if we play our system, play our game and trust the scouting report that [defensive coordinator Jesse] Bernhardt gives us, we’ll be alright.”

2. What can the Terps do differently? The last time these two teams met, Maryland was overpowered, yet the Terps only committed nine turnovers and were 17-for-17 on clears. So what can Maryland do differently this time around? For starters, senior Luke Wierman needs to win the faceoff battle. He won just 13 of the 30 faceoffs against the Wolverines on April 1, and Maryland is 9-2 in games where he has a .500 faceoff winning percentage. The Terps also need to shoot more efficiently. Another sub-30% game will make things incredibly difficult for their already-diminished defense.

3. Can Maryland defend its conference crown? The Terps are back in the Big Ten Tournament championship game as the reigning back-to-back champions. In 2021, Maryland defeated Johns Hopkins, 12-10, in the championship game, and then took down Rutgers, 17-7, in 2022. While the Terps are not undefeated this time around, their experience and championship pedigree will be on full display.