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No. 7 Maryland men’s lacrosse is stuck in a habit of slow starts

The Terps have had impressive showings in the fourth quarter this season, but it wasn’t enough against Villanova.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

When No. 7 Maryland men’s lacrosse trailed by five goals in the fourth quarter of last Tuesday’s game against Villanova, the team remained calm. After all, the Terps had completed comebacks the previous two weeks against Richmond and then-No. 6 Penn.

And when Anthony DeMaio hit fellow attack Logan Wisnauskas for a man-up goal with 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Terps only trailed by one against Villanova. But this time, they would not complete the comeback as the clock expired, giving Maryland its first loss of the season.

“We’re just going to focus on the next game. Villanova is a good team,” senior midfielder Russell Masci said. “We knew that coming into the game, we just started a little slow.”

While the fourth quarter comebacks have been impressive, they have masked an issue that has given the Terps problems all season; slow starts. In the first quarter of all of its games this year, Maryland has a -2 goal differential. In the first half, Maryland has a -5 goal differential.

But things flip for this team late in games. In the fourth quarter, the Terps possess a +16 goal differential. A large part of that can be attributed to the team’s intensity and effort.

“Playing these close games, guys start to pick up their urgency a little bit,” senior attackman Jared Bernhardt said. “It’s shown in these games in the fourth quarter.”

Bernhardt has led Maryland’s offense to explode down the stretch of these contests. The Terps are averaging six fourth quarter goals per game. But, the defense has played an integral part in the comebacks as well.

The Terps held Villanova scoreless for the last 8:38 of Tuesday’s game, held Penn scoreless for the entire fourth quarter two weeks ago and only allowed one goal against Richmond in the last 14:25 of that victory.

The early defensive struggles, which have impeded the Terps from jumping out to leads, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. This past offseason, the Terps lost their best defender Curtis Corley, in addition to midfielders Thomas O’Connell and Nick Brozowski.

Maryland returned sophomore Brett Makar but doesn’t have a ton of continuity with transfer Nick Grill and inexperienced sophomore John Geppert seeing action. And while the Terps’ defense tends to improve by the fourth quarter, it’s allowed an average 11.3 goals through the first three periods of play.

“Especially in the fourth, you start understanding what they wanna do with their game plan. By that point you should pretty [much] understand what they are doing,” Grill said. “Understanding that when we are going down in these games...we have to buckle down and get some stops and give it to our offense.”

Grill and the defense don’t have to work as hard when Maryland is possessing the ball. They have received inconsistency at the faceoff specialist position this season, but in the fourth quarter Justin Shockey and Conor Calderone have been at their best, giving Maryland a +5 differential in faceoffs during those final 15 minutes.

Maryland’s late-game heroics have boosted the team to a 3-1 record, but the lackadaisical starts finally caught up to them at Villanova. The Terps can use the loss as a wake-up call.

“Sometimes we have kind of been sluggish and slow, especially in the first half of games. We kind of just have to start better,” DeMaio said. “We have been put on the spot of we are a fourth quarter team, and I don’t think that’s something that we want. We want to play 60 minutes.”

Playing well for 60 minutes will be crucial Saturday when No. 5 Notre Dame comes to town. If the Terps play with the intensity they have in the fourth quarter of every game, they will be tough to beat. But another slow start could doom them against a talented Fighting Irish team.