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Maryland men’s lacrosse storms past Robert Morris, 14-11, to advance to NCAA Quarterfinals

The Terps were down three at halftime, but a dominant second half was enough for the win.

Maryland men’s lacrosse Albany Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

It took less than five minutes for top-seeded Maryland men’s lacrosse to ease its odds of becoming victim to one of the biggest upsets in college lacrosse history on Sunday, swiftly erasing a three-goal halftime deficit against unseeded Robert Morris in the opening minutes of the second half.

A No. 1 seed has never lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the current postseason format and only twice failed to reach the Final Four, but the Terps were in danger of that result before going on a four-goal run to start the second half and taking control of the game en route to a 14-11 win.

A huge third quarter propelled Maryland to the comeback win, outscoring the Colonials 6-1 in the period. Senior midfielder Connor Kelly led the charge, scoring a hat trick within those 15 minutes to turn a 6-3 deficit into a 9-7 lead heading into the final quarter.

Maryland is now 7-1 in the first round under head coach John Tillman, earning a quarterfinals game next Sunday in Annapolis against the winner of Cornell and No. 8 seed Syracuse.

While the Terps came out on top, Robert Morris played a near-perfect first half. The Colonials, who won a play-in game against Canisius on Wednesday to advance to the first round, rode that momentum for the first 30 minutes. They outshot the Terps 22-10 and maintained possession for much of the half.

Maryland goalkeeper Dan Morris had more saves in the first half than his offense had shots on the other end of the field. The senior’s season-high saves was 13, which he did twice, but was forced to make 11 in the first 30 minutes. He finished the contest with 14 as his duties were less needed when the Terps came alive.

Morris’ counterpart — sophomore goalkeeper Chris Reynolds — played just 12 minutes throughout the regular season and the NEC Tournament, but due to an injury to starter Alex Heger prior to the NCAA Tournament, was in between the pipes for the entire play-in game on Wednesday and again Sunday afternoon. He faced 10 shots in the first half, made three saves and allowed just three goals. He made four saves in the second half, but allowed 11 goals.

The Terps won 6 of 11 faceoffs in the first half, but turned the ball over seven times. Maryland leads the nation in fewest turnovers per game, but Robert Morris’ stingy defense contained the Terps until the third quarter. Austin Henningsen didn’t start as the primary FOGO, but came off the bench and won 13 of his 18 draws.

The Colonials used a two-goal run in six seconds to reestablish a three-goal lead in the second quarter. Of Robert Morris’ six first-half goals, four were unassisted. All were created on man-to-man breakdowns, with a Colonial attacker blowing by a Terps defenseman.

Then everything changed in Maryland’s favor.

Freshman midfielder Roman Puglise scored his first-career goal less than a minute into the second half, commencing Maryland’s second-half surge. Three goals from Kelly, and one each from Jared Bernhardt and Colin Giblin followed, as Maryland outscored Robert Morris by five in the third.

After Robert Morris scored the first goal of the fourth quarter, Tim Rotanz and Bernhardt scored a pair of big goals to open up Maryland’s largest lead of the game at 11-8. Robert Morris kept the game interesting, but the Terps kept scoring.

Freshman Bubba Fairman completed his fifth hat trick of the season in his first-career NCAA Tournament game. Both of Rotanz’s goals came in the fourth quarter, as Maryland kept its distance in the closing minutes.

The Terps will play the winner of No. 8-seed Syracuse and Cornell in Annapolis next Sunday.

Three things to know

  1. Dan Morris kept it close enough for Maryland. The senior goalkeeper made 11 saves in the first half alone, just two shy of his season-high. He ended up with 13 in the entire game — tying his season-high — which shows how much easier his job became in the second half.
  2. Connor Kelly showed why he’s a Tewaaraton finalist. Kelly had just one goal in the first half, but scored three very important goals in a 13-minute span to lead Maryland’s momentous third quarter. The senior took charge when he needed to to jumpstart his team.
  3. Nick Brozowski did not play. The junior long-stick midfielder didn’t even dress for the game and no official statement has been made about his status. His absence was noticeable at times in the first half. He has 35 ground balls this season and seven caused turnovers.