At this time last year, Maryland men’s lacrosse was taking another shot at exorcising its postseason demons. This year, instead of having a 42-year monkey on its back, there’s a target.
The Terps are the defending national champions, and will look to start a run to a second straight title Sunday against Robert Morris. Maryland is the No. 1 overall seed for the third straight year, though the committee didn’t do the Terps any favors with their first round opponent. Theoretically, the two teams in the play-in game should have the worst two RPIs, but Robert Morris’s was 11 spots higher than Richmond. The selection committee decided it didn’t want Richmond to fly to Canisius in the middle of the week, so the Colonials played on Wednesday and the Spiders will play at Albany this weekend. Robert Morris ripped off seven straight goals in a 12-6 win over the Golden Flashes to move on to the first round.
The Colonials qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the NEC Tournament, knocking off Bryant in the semifinals and St. Joseph’s in overtime in the finals for their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. Robert Morris played some challenging non-conference games to make up for its subpar conference, upsetting Penn State and Marquette.
Maryland enters the tournament as an at-large bid after falling in the Big Ten Tournament championship to arch-rival Johns Hopkins. The Terps couldn’t repeat their heroics at Homewood Field, and the Blue Jays went on a 8-1 run in the second half to put the game away.
Under John Tillman, Maryland is 18-6 in the NCAA Tournament and 6-1 in the first round. The Terps are 2-0 all-time against Robert Morris, defeating the Colonials 19-6 in 2014 and 13-4 in 2015.
The game is scheduled to start at noon, and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Robert Morris Colonials (13-4)
2017 record: 9-7, 4-2 NEC
Head coach Andrew McMinn has been with the program since its second season in 2006, and has been the head coach for the past seven. He’s 56-50 over that span, and the Colonials’ 22 wins the past two years are almost more than their 23 in the previous four years combined.
Players to watch
Redshirt junior attackman Jimmy Perkins, No. 4. The Pittsburgh native leads a trio of solid scorers for Robert Morris’ offense. He has a team-high 30 assists and 58 points, and his 28 goals are second on the team.
Senior defender Zachary Bryant, No. 18. At 6’5, the Ontario native is an intimidating defensive presence for the Colonials. He has 36 ground balls and a team-high 36 caused turnovers, and is solid in transition with two goals and three assists.
Junior goalie Alex Heger, No. 14. Heger’s been one of the best goalies in the country this year, and is second in the NCAA in save percentage (.603) and third in goals-against average (7.49). However, he missed Wednesday’s play-in game with a lower-body injury, and his status for Sunday is unknown.
Defense. The Colonials have the stingiest defense in the country, according to Analytics Lacrosse. Bryant and Heger are potential All-Americans, but they haven’t seen players like Connor Kelly and Jared Bernhardt.
Faceoffs. As frustrating as Maryland has been at the faceoff dot this year, Robert Morris has been worse. The Colonials have won just 44 percent of the time, and if the Terps take advantage, they can put constant pressure on Robert Morris’ defense and put the game away early.
Three things to watch
- Can Robert Morris hang around? If the NCAA truly cared about putting the two worst teams in the play-in game, the Colonials would be getting ready to face Albany this weekend. Robert Morris is no pushover, and could give Maryland a scare if it has an off day.
- What happens in goal? Both teams got strong play between the pipes, but it’s an area of uncertainty heading into the NCAA Tournament. Dan Morris played his worst game of the season against Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten final, and Heger’s status for the game is still up in the air.
- Does Maryland’s defense bounce back? While Morris struggled last week, he didn’t get a lot of help. The Terps’ defense has been inconsistent this season, and not the dominant unit fans have come to expect.