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Maryland men’s lacrosse won the national title game with its physical defense

The Terps got back to their roots, and it ended a 42-year championship drought.

2017 NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Coming out of a late fourth-quarter timeout with the national championship on the line, senior Nick Manis couldn’t help but smile.

“We were running out there with two minutes left and we had to make a stop, we’re all smiling at each other like, ‘This is where we've been. This is where we want to be,’” Manis said in the postgame press conference.

In Maryland’s 9-6 title game victory over Ohio State, the Buckeyes surged for three straight goals late in the fourth to cut the Terps’ lead to two. With possession coming out of a timeout, Maryland needed a defensive stop against a squad with nothing to lose, a situation the team has been in countless times.

“We've been in those spots all year,” Manis said. “Something that we focused on is just finishing. We love it. We embrace it.”

The defense forced a shot by Eric Fannell that was stuffed by keeper Dan Morris, who finished the day with 11 saves.

Ohio State and Maryland are both among the best offensive teams in the country, but in a game dictated by physicality rather than offensive flash, Maryland’s traditionally smothering defense shined. Holding Ohio State to its second-lowest goal total of the season, the Terps forced five turnovers and allowed just 25 shots, nine fewer attempts than the Buckeyes’ season average.

“We just did what we always do: We just played fundamental, Maryland defense,” said defender Tim Muller, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Ohio State failed to generate consistent offense against the Terps’ defense, allowing Maryland’s offense to eventually work itself out.

After starting the game with two goals allowed in the first ten minutes, Maryland’s defense allowed four in the remaining 50. The Buckeyes’ third goal came in the beginning of the third, ending a 25-minute scoring drought that included the entirety of the second quarter. Ohio State wouldn’t score the remainder of the third, as the defense forced another scoring drought of 15 minutes. By the time Ohio State figured out how to break through, it was too late.

“We don't go out there and try to make plays happen,” Muller said. “Guys like Nick Brozowski had a great game, he had a lot of ground balls and he had some caused turnovers. Curtis Corley, Bryce Young, they all played fundamental defense. They didn't try to do anything special. I think that's just how Maryland always is.”

Programs change identities on a yearly basis, but head coach John Tillman has always fielded an elite defense. Maryland has steadily improved its offense with the maturation of players like Matt Rambo and Connor Kelly, but its defensive prowess has never wavered.

Without Maryland’s defensive effort on Memorial Day, Ohio State could have run up an early lead and and changed the dynamic of the contest. In a game that ended a 42-year championship drought, it’s only fitting Maryland won based on what it’s done best for so long.

“We always pride ourselves on defense at Maryland,” Manis said. “We really wouldn't want it any other way.”