After entering the last three NCAA Tournaments as the No. 1 overall seed, Maryland men’s lacrosse will begin its run at a national title Sunday as an unseeded underdog, starting with a road matchup at Towson.
The Terps face the No. 6-seed Tigers (11-4) following their second CAA tournament title in three years, entering the NCAA Tournament as the lone team from their conference. Towson rose to as high as No. 1 in the country earlier this season following a 5-0 start, but went 6-4 in the final 10 games of the season to finish at No. 10 in the rankings.
Aside from the late-season slide, Towson has had a near-perfect schedule. The Tigers have defeated the likes of Johns Hopkins, Loyola and Georgetown, with each of their four losses coming to ranked opponents. But they’ve been better on the road this season they have on their home field, going 8-2 at road and neutral locations compared to a 3-2 record at home.
Maryland holds a 28-5 all-time record against Towson, including wins in the last 10 meetings. But the last time the two teams played was in John Tillman’s first season as head coach back in 2011, which seems odd given how close the two programs are in proximity.
“I’m certainly open to it,” Tillman said of playing Towson in the regular season going forward. “Just looking at the selection criteria and all of that, they’re a really good team, they’ve been a really good team the last few years, it kind of makes sense [for us to play them].”
The game will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPNU.
No. 6-seed Towson Tigers (11-4, 4-1 CAA)
2018 Record: 7-8, 3-2
Head coach Shawn Nadelen has guided Towson to a 83-49 record as the man at helm. As an all-american close defender at Johns Hopkins in the early 2000s, Nadelen is known for his death trap of a defense that can suffocate opponents, finishing among the top 20 in scoring defense twice during his tenure as head coach.
Players to know
Senior attack Brendan Sunday (No. 24) is the quarterback of the Towson offense, totaling 69 points this season off 45 goals and 24 assists. Sunday is a load to deal with at 6’5, 200 pounds, and with 14 points in his last two contests, shutting down Towson’s high-scoring offense will begin and end with slowing down Sunday.
Senior short-stick defensive midfielder Zach Goodrich (No. 14) has been one of the best at what he does in country during his career at Towson, culminating in a Tewaaraton semifinalist nod earlier this season. The senior has scooped 30-plus ground balls and caused double-digit turnovers in each of his four seasons for the Tigers, and will certainly make life difficult for Maryland’s midfield group on Sunday.
Junior goalie Tyler Canto (No. 51) is quite literally a massive presence in the net for the Tigers. Standing at 6’6 and weighing in at 245 pounds, Canto’s giant frame makes it difficult to try and fit shots past him.
“Honestly, we were looking at film the other day and I didn’t really know how big he was,” sophomore midfielder Bubba Fairman said. “I think we just have to take high-angle shots and really test him moving side-to-side, but he’s a great goalie so I’m kind of looking forward to that matchup.”
Man-up offense. Although the Terps allow just 2:24 of aggregate penalty time per game, they’d be wise to allow as little as possible to Towson’s extra-man unit. The Tigers have turned EMOs into goals 44.8 percent of the time, the sixth-best rate in the country. Maryland’s man-down defense checks in at 51st nationally at preventing goals, so limiting the amount of laundry on the field will be a point of emphasis if Maryland wants to keep its season alive.
Turnovers. Despite Maryland only causing around four turnovers per game (and opponents averaging 11.9 giveaways per contest), opportunities to force mistakes will likely be available Sunday. The Tigers average 17.47 turnovers per contest and boast just an 81.1 percent clear percentage, ranking outside the top 40 in the nation in both of those categories.
Three things to watch
1. Will Alex Woodall play? The junior FOGO has been one of the top faceoff men in the country this season, winning 74.5 percent of draws to rank second in the nation in faceoff percentage. But his status for Sunday’s game is still in question after missing the last two contests with an upper-body injury.
“I think we’re just gonna prepare like he’s gonna play,” Fairman said. “Alex is going 75 percent right now, which is unheard of, so we’re definitely gonna have to pick up some scrappy ground balls, but overall I think our coaches are putting in a great game plan for us.”
2. Will Terp fans make the trip? Having the crowd behind you in any game helps, but in an NCAA Tournament game, it matters a little bit more. Maryland fans are known to travel well, and with just an hour drive separating the two campuses, there could be a strong contingent of Terp fans at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Sunday.
“I think both teams will have a pretty good crowd there,” Tillman said. “Being so close, I gotta think Terp Nation will come out strong for us.”
3. Can Maryland get back to its winning ways? Outside of losses to Notre Dame and Penn State, Maryland looked to be the type of team that would bring it week in and week out with consistency. But the Terps’ two losses to Johns Hopkins proved that they too are mortal, and that anything less than their best likely won’t get it done. Now entering the tournament coming off their first consecutive losses of the season, and with how slim margin for error is at this point in the year, the Terps need to be focused and organized in their execution if they want to get it done.