May 19, 2012

May Moxie: Terps Play Like They've Been There Before

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Live Blog Replay

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland has May Moxie.

By generating a drastic time of possession advantage with its suffocating, boa constrictor 6-on-6 defense and relying on an opportunistic and efficient offense, Maryland upended second-seeded Johns Hopkins 11-5 in Saturday's NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinal.

The Terrapins emotional-yet-loose style reverberated throughout Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where the 13,390 fans that filled the lower bowl could feel the energy emanating from the black-and-red sideline.

Maryland junior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt came up with several forced turnovers as the Terps controlled every aspect of Saturday's quarterfinal game against second-seeded Johns Hopkins.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

In the 109th edition between the sport's fiercest rivals, the Terrapins punched their ticket to Memorial Day weekend for the second straight year, becoming the first team ever to make back-to-back final fours as an unseeded squad.

"I love, more than anything else, the way our guys played," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "A lot of energy, a lot of effort. They fought really hard. In typical Terp fashion we weren't very pretty. At times, we drive ourselves a little bit crazy. But we stick together and we play hard for the entire game, and we had each other's backs. The guys showed that today."

Meanwhile, after missing consecutive semifinals only twice in program history, Hopkins has missed the last four. The Blue Jays have lost those elimination games by a combined score of 62-27.

Said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala: "We need to spend the summer figuring out how we're going to be better in this game [in the quarterfinal round]. Because this year's team and last year's team were good enough to get to the final four, and we didn't."

It's difficult to overstate Maryland's dominance Saturday. The Terps controlled every aspect of the game: from A to Z, statistical and intangible. They out-shot Hopkins 28-16, picked up 11 more ground balls, won four more faceoffs and turned the ball over four fewer times. That's a 20-possession discrepancy. By an informal press box count — courtesy of The Washington Times' Patrick Stevens — the Terps held the ball for 40:38 to Hopkins' 19:22.

But, more than anything, Maryland played like it had been on this stage before. It was in complete control from the opening faceoff, executing its game plan perfectly. Maryland jumped out to an early lead, which allowed it to control tempo, and then the Terps held the Blue Jays scoreless for 28:20 — nearly the entire second and third quarters. During that stretch, Hopkins managed only seven shots; many of those were quick one-and-done, short possessions.

Back-to-back plays late in the third quarter best summarize the state of affairs Saturday. With 4:15 on the clock and Maryland ahead 6-2, the Blue Jays were awarded a 30-second extra-man opportunity after Drew Snider was called for a push. Hopkins never got a shot off during the man-advantage. Junior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt pressed out on Mark Goodrich, forced a turnover and picked up the loose ball. The Terps cleared but turned it over, and Hopkins was back on offense. Then, down six goals with two minutes left, Maryland's aggressive defense forced Hopkins into a stall warning. Hopkins again didn't get a shot off, and Bernhardt stripped Brandon Benn clean.

Bernhardt's impressive individual effort sent the Maryland sideline into a frenzy. It also provided a fitting snapshot of Bernhardt's season: He has developed into one of the nation's most dynamic players, regardless of position.

"Jesse is a guy that has done a lot for us. His energy, his leadership, his intangibles. He comes from great stock. His dad's a football coach. He and Jake, the way they do their business. They're athletes. They're competitive. Everything they do, they do to a T. They're super competitive," Tillman said.

"That really rubs off on our team. His energy, and the way he comes out when he makes plays. Our team is the type of team that is going to acknowledge great effort by anybody. But when Jesse does it, it has bigger impact because of the type of guy he is. That's usually a telling thing for us."

And that certainly was the case for Amato, who made seven saves, and said "there's no limit to how energetic we can be." On one occasion, Amato ran over the midline to celebrate a Maryland goal, high-fiving any teammate in sight.

When asked to describe the post-game locker room atmosphere, Amato quipped, "Nude." Snider quickly followed: "There was a lot of jumping around, water being sprayed."

"Maryland's game plan is simple: Win faceoffs. Hold the ball. Win ground balls. You're going to win a lot of games like that."

-- Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala

The subtext to Maryland's victory should read: "The Little Things, starring Bernhardt, Snider, Amato, Goran Murray, Landon Carr and Curtis Holmes (12-of-20 on faceoffs)." They may not be flashy, but they know how to win.

Snider and first-midfield line mates John Haus and Mike Chanenchuk scored seven goals, playing arguably their best game of the season, while leading scorers Owen Blye and Joe Cummings combined for one. Hopkins focused its defensive attention — Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner — on Maryland's big guns, but the Terps were successful inverting, probing, then isolating on Hopkins' short-sticks.

"Maryland's game plan is simple: Win faceoffs. Hold the ball. Win ground balls," Pietramala said. "You're going to win a lot of games like that. ... They put a stranglehold on the ball and they stall most of the game. I'm not a guy that's against that. You might get a guy who sits up here and says it's time for a shot clock. You do what you gotta do to win."

By an unofficial count, Maryland was called for 12 stall warnings on Saturday. But Tillman said slowing the ball down wasn't part of the game plan. It's just the way the Terps play offense, and the way they play defense.

"To be honest, it wasn't like, 'OK, let's get the ball and hold it.' That wasn't the game plan all week," Tillman said. "If you have that mindset, the kids realize it. 'So you think they're better than us and we can't score, so we have to hold it to win.' If we have opportunities, we're going to go. But we want to be smart with them. We don't want to go recklessly to the goal. We don't want to go 5-on-6. We want to make the extra pass.

"They're good defensively. That's the thing that's tough. When you play against these good teams, you can dodge and cycle and cycle, and you still may not get anything. It gets tough. The athletes on defense now are so good and the slides and schemes have changed so much. A lot of times you can't get leverage off that first dodge. So our approach is, we've got to be patient and make sure we get a good shot. Let's not settle for 'C' looks, let's get 'A' looks."

That's how a team that entered the season needing to replace three starters on attack and three more on close defense will be playing on championship weekend.

"That was the one thing we felt like this year: We were going to believe it was going to happen. Why not?" Tillman said. "If everybody is willing to get outside their comfort zone and make some sacrifices for each other, why not us?"

Now that's moxie.


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