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No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse breezes past Michigan, 16-8, to advance to Big Ten championship

The Terps were knocked down early, but answered with another strong run to coast to victory.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After attacker Jared Bernhardt outstretched to catch a poor pass from attacker Daniel Maltz with one hand and sent a dagger to the center of the cage to mark up his sixth score, he calmly trotted to celebrate with his teammates as the fatigued Wolverine defense collectively hung their heads.

Down 6-11 midway through the third, Michigan head coach Kevin Conroy could do nothing but rest his hands on his hips. Maryland was just better Thursday night.

Maryland had the best player in the nation and a fierce offense alongside him. While Michigan boasted a gassed defense with few answers for the efficient scorers. The Wolverines defense, as confident and improved as it was, was no match for Bernhardt and Co. and the final 16-8 scoreline was the perfect indication.

“At times, [we were] a little sloppy, but I love the fight and our guys and the competitiveness and the way they stuck together,” said head coach John Tillman.

Michigan had to be perfect to pull off an upset in this contest. It had to take advantage of nearly every mistake and it had to dominate in areas where Maryland noticeably struggled.

For Michigan, offensive possessions were vital. And for a cerebral five minutes, the Wolverines would express that sentiment on the field, relentlessly battling at the faceoff X and playing with poise on the attack. It allowed the Wolverines to manufacture a 2-0 start, an opening somewhat reminiscent of the first six minutes in the two sides' previous meeting.

However, the poise, as has been the case all season, wasn’t as present on the Wolverines defense. The young backline, oftentimes porous and sluggish, struggled to keep up with their world-class opponent, allowing for a swift takeover for the Maryland offense.

The Wolverines opened the match with a punch and the Terps responded by pushing the lowly fifth seed off a cliff. The variation between zone and man defense was futile, Maryland had an answer for it all. Bernhardt and midfielder Bubba Fairman alternated for the first four goals to help the Terps end the first frame up by two. And the scores continued to pour in well into the second quarter with two more from Bernhardt.

Bernhardt continued to typify the offense; finishing with a career-high eight goals, scoring with verve and finding his spots at multiple levels. Whether it was tip-toeing at the crease or sliding a deep shot in the alley between the legs of two defenders, he found the back of the net.

Remarkably, he did it all with tremendous composure, casually stuffing his stat sheet with goals and single handedly ending the Wolverines season. This game was statistically Bernhardt’s best ever, with a career-high in points and goals, but judging by his demeanor, one could assume he did this on a weekly basis.

“That might have been the most quiet 8 and 2 I’ve ever seen,” midfielder Roman Puglise said, “he’s just a force on the field and we’re very grateful he’s on our side.”

As the lead swelled, the tidiness of the Wolverines offense faltered as well. Michigan’s offense, in an effort to seemingly erase Maryland’s lead as quickly as possible, looked erratic.

The results were four unforced turnovers and a meager two-goal response to Maryland’s initial 6-0 run. The Wolverines added another two-goal run in the third and fourth frame but it didn’t hold a candle to Maryland’s six scores and five-goal run in the quarter. It was the backbreaker for the Wolverines and was the perfect display of an efficient and relentless offense.

Michigan was feisty early, but the Terps stood out as a true one seed. Behind the tidy, but humble, work of Bernhardt and a timely third-quarter surge, the Terps grabbed their 11th win.

“I just credit my teammates,” Bernhardt said. “They’re all my really good friends and we’ve been able to play with each other for a little bit now so we kind of know each guys strengths and stuff like that.

Three things to know

1. With his 10-point game, Jared Bernhardt now leads the program in points and goals. With his assist to attacker Griffin Brown midway through the second quarter, Bernhardt secured the top spot on the all-time points list for Maryland men’s lacrosse. It’s just another list that Bernhardt has found his way to the top of in a historic individual campaign. With his eight goals and two assists, there was no question Bernhardt was the best player on the field and likely the nation.

“You’re looking at 10 points, and, you know, I didn’t feel like he pressed a ton either,” Tillman said. “I just felt like he picked his spots really, really well and he finished the shots.”

2. The Terps weren’t phased by Michigan’s zone defense. Michigan regularly switched between man and zone defense. Regardless of what Michigan showed them, Maryland scored however it pleased — especially Bernhardt, who manhandled the defense wherever he pleased.

“Whether it’s man or zone, really our philosophy was going to be pretty similar. Just get em’ moving and moving and moving and moving,” Tillman said, “our guys are so good at looking for each other. We have some really skilled guys and it does make [the defense] problematic.”

3. A return from Justin Shockey. After a rough 1-for-5 start at the X, Luke Wierman was benched for Justin Shockey to slow down Nick Rowlett. The first team All-Big Ten specialist continued to produce, but Shockey showed resolve, and eventually outscored Rowlett with three more faceoff wins. He also helped spark Maryland’s offense at times. Most notably, when the Terps were looking to stretch the lead in the third quarter.

“I thought Justin was huge for us,” Tillman said, “we all of a sudden got possessions. It was a tough first quarter for us. In terms of getting faceoffs ... that was huge for us to kind of get possession, get into a rhythm, play a lot of offense, get into a flow and then rest some of our defensive players.