In a year where there’s no dominant force in men’s college lacrosse, even the top teams have flaws and can be beat. For the past few weeks, Maryland has been one of those teams.
Since the start of Big Ten play, the Terps have grinded their way to three wins in the toughest conference in the country without looking dominant in any of them. They put together excellent spurts, not a full 60 minutes.
Against Ohio State, those inconsistencies came back to bite them. The Buckeyes came in to Maryland Stadium looking for a win to keep their season alive, and exposed the holes Maryland has shown in Big Ten play to come away with a 12-10 win.
While the Terps have been solid on offense and defense for most of the season, faceoffs have emerged as their biggest weakness. After winning nearly 58 percent of chances at the dot in non-conference play, Maryland has won an abysmal 36 percent against Big Ten competition. Justin Shockey struggled against Michigan, Penn State and Rutgers, and neither Austin Henningsen nor Will Bonaparte were consistent enough to make up for his freshman rough patch.
“I feel like the challenge for us is to get everybody in a good place and feel like we can use that Hog Pen mentality and get everyone on the same page,” head coach John Tillman said about his faceoff specialists.
Maryland started to make adjustments in the second half, putting Shockey in to take faceoffs after Henningsen and Bonaparte went 3-of-14 in the first half. It also put two long poles on the wings, with Bryce Young replacing Adam DiMillo to help Shockey out and pick up more ground balls. This is the same strategy the Terps used at times last year, and could be worth keeping to take pressure off the faceoff man. Maryland won a national championship last year going through some of the best faceoff men in the country, but this year it doesn’t have a Jon Garino-type player that can win critical draws if the primary specialist falters.
Tillman’s teams always pride themselves on their defense, but even that has shown cracks. The close defense has been leaky, and Ohio State picked it apart time and time again Sunday. The Buckeyes ran the offense through Jack Jasinski behind the goal, and he continued to find teammates right in front of the goal in Maryland’s zone. He finished with five assists, as many as he had this season coming into Sunday’s game.
“They’re not an overcomplicated group, they didn’t give us anything different than we practiced,” Tillman said. “If you don’t do a good job, if you don’t button up, they’re not afraid to jam it in there and based on last week and what we did, I would jam it in there too.”
Rutgers took advantage of some similar opportunities, and the Terps didn’t really get any better this week. Although Dan Morris has made some incredible close-range saves this season, he can’t stop everything. For a team where the defense usually matches or is a better than the offense, it’s a little weird to see it be the other way around this season.
While faceoffs and defensive issues remain a concern, Sunday’s loss wasn’t completely disappointing. Shockey finished the game strong by winning 6 of 9 faceoffs. Maryland’s defense had some moments as well, including back-to-back caused turnovers in the first quarter by Young and Nick Brozowski that led to transition goals. The Terps also continued to fight back when getting down, and were a couple big plays away from pulling out another close win.
But being a few close plays away doesn’t count. It’s probably better for Maryland to learn that lesson now than in College Park, Annapolis or Foxborough in May. The Terps lost to Ohio State in this same game last year, then thumped Johns Hopkins the next week on the way to their first national championship in 42 years.
It wasn’t the first time one of Tillman’s teams lost a game late in the season and still went on to make a deep tournament run. In 2011 and 2012, Maryland lost to Colgate in an NCAA Tournament tuneup before advancing to the national championship game. Two years later, the Terps lost to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament and still advanced to the Final Four. A year after that, they lost to Johns Hopkins to end the regular season and Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament before advancing to the national championship game.
Although none of those loss came against an unranked team like Ohio State, it still provides an example of how Maryland can get back on track. Bounce back Sunday at Homewood Field, and the Terps will get closer to the top of the list of title contenders in a wide open season. Lose again, and it could be a cause for concern.