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Maryland men's lacrosse still improving as it enters NCAA Tournament

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Even in one of the most successful seasons in program history, there are ways to get better.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland men's lacrosse beat Johns Hopkins on the road to win the biggest rivalry game of the Terps' regular season back on April 30, the program was thrust even deeper into the national title contender conversation.

That commendation is certainly necessary, but head coach John Tillman was still looking for more.

"We were disappointed with our tempo Saturday," Tillman said after Maryland's Big Ten Tournament win over Penn State. "It just felt like it took us so long to get into our sets and get in our progressions."

If being "disappointed" about a second consecutive 12-win regular season is one of your problems, then things are looking pretty good coming into postseason play.

The same narrative followed in the team's dominant 16-9 win over the Nittany Lions in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The offense was jelling like never before, and the early result was a commanding 6-0 lead with time still left in the first quarter. Did Maryland's visible emotions parallel the play on the field? Of course not, because they did what they always do.

"Lots of times, we'll go on a run, or the other team goes on a run, we bring it in and we always ask the same question: What's the score? It's always 0-0," Tillman said. "Don't dwell on it, make the next play."

In action, take the performance of Matt Rambo during the Big Ten Tournament. He led all players with 11 points, and personally orchestrated the initial scoring rampage that Penn State would never be able to overcome. He scored or assisted on four of the team's first six goals in that game. Yet, even in the stellar effort, there was still improvement to be made.

After a midfield collision during the Penn State matchup left Will Bonaparte laying on the field and Adam DiMillo off the field with a shoulder injury, Rambo got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

"You kind of see the best and worst right there," Tillman said about what he thought of Rambo's penalty. "Sometimes you have to remind the guys 'manage the game, don't let it manage you'...I thought it was a teachable moment, nobody's perfect."

When your points leader on the season is still willing to learn from a coach that is never done teaching, it reflects greatly on how high the bar has been set, both individually and holistically. This team-wide mentality is what separates the newcomer and veteran programs. Teams like Maryland don't get phased and blinded by the theatrics of early leads, emotional victories or regular season records. Teams like Maryland are the ones that earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

With their mindset on a National Championship, combined with an emphasis on never settling, there remains one last question: Will this be the year Maryland doesn't settle for just runner-up?

It all starts on Sunday when the Terps take on the winner of the play-in game Hartford vs. Quinnipiac.