May 28, 2011

Terps Pound Duke into Submission, Much to Delight of Pro-Maryland Crowd

by Paul Krome | | NCAA Men's Final Four Blog

Joe Cummings had three points Saturday in Maryland's 9-6 victory over Duke in the NCAA semifinals, helping to bring the Terps one game within their first national championship since 1975. They'll face ACC rival Virginia on Monday with the title on the line.

© Joe Rogate

BALTIMORE – The new coach may or may not have made the difference this year for Maryland, but the Terrapin Nation doesn't care: its team has finally made it back to the national championship game.

Using a stifling defense, a dominant faceoff man and three timely points from each Grant Catalino and Joe Cummings, the unseeded Terps pounded fifth-seeded Duke into submission during a 9-4 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse semifinal win Saturday before a pro-Maryland crowd of 45,039 at M&T Bank Stadium. With the win, their second in three meetings with their ACC rivals, the Terrapins (13-4) advanced to Monday's final against another conference nemesis, Virginia, and will try to end a 36-year national championship drought.

"In typical fashion, it was not prettiest game," first-year Maryland coach John Tillman said. "I'm not sure our execution was better than a 'C.' But with the senior leadership that we got, the heart that these guys played with, the physicality, and the effort in the middle of the field really helped us."

Tillman soaked up the moment, as did a talented senior class brought in by his predecessor, Dave Cottle. The latter, forced to resign last summer by the school's now-departed athletic director, has stayed close to his former players with Tillman's blessing, even addressing them prior to a game against North Carolina. Tillman has publicly credited Cottle and his staff for building the current Terrapins, and they rewarded both men and their fans with a decidedly Maryland effort: physical play, hustle and enough offense to win.

While Catalino, who had three goals in his team's 11-9, ACC championship game win at Duke, opened and closed his team's scoring in the second half, his teammates in the backfield put on another of their patented performances, holding the Blue Devils scoreless for 22:40 after Zach Howell brought them within 5-3 on a left-handed shot five minutes into the third period. About five minutes later, Maryland's Dan Burns deftly cleared the ball by himself under duress and fed the Big Cat, who evaded Bill Conners and answered Duke's only real threat of the half.

"They dominated us physically, hit us to the ground a lot," said Duke sophomore middie David Lawson, one of several underclassmen who asserted themselves this season and offer promise for the future. "We fought through it, but ultimately they beat us up, and there wasn't much we could do about it."

Maryland senior defenseman Brett Schmidt blanketed Duke freshman phenom Jordan Wolf, and the Terps bullied their way to advantages in similar matchups across the board, holding Duke's starting attack unit to just four shots and no goals in the first half. Maryland seniors Ryder Bohlander, Max Scmidt and Scott LaRue each delivered big hits to jar the ball free from attacking Blue Devils.

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Maryland 9. Duke 4

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"Those [hits] are difference makers, little plays that can swing momentum," Catalino said. "Especially with the crowd behind us, when you hear that roar after a big hit, that's a heartbreaker for other team."

When the Terps did allow shots, Duke was equally heartbroken by freshman goalie Niko Amato, who made five saves in the first period following a goal by Duke's David Lawson 54 seconds in, courtesy of a Robert Rotanz feed. Amato finished with 13 saves.

"Watching film helps you get to know shooters' tendencies, so I was not going in blind to what a player on Duke might be thinking," Amato said. "Our defense did a great job forcing shots I was used to seeing."

Maryland looked unpolished offensively early, however, dropping passes and committing violations until Catalino scored on his team's first shot – a rocket from the left wing midway through the quarter. The Terps seized the lead for good with 13 seconds left in the first quarter when Cummings (2g, 1a), who had fed Catalino's marker, picked up a loose ball in front of the goal and converted after teammate Kevin Cooper unwisely tried to drive through three Blue Devils. Just 12 seconds later, Amato completed a momentum-boosting end of period by stoning senior attackman Zach Howell.

Duke briefly closed to 3-2 on a nice Tucker Virtue-to-Josh Offit conversion at 10:43 of the second quarter, but the Devils promptly fell asleep at the wheel, committing a faceoff violation and allowing Curtis Holmes (11-for-17 at the draw) to go virtually unchallenged on the restart for a 4-2 Terrapin lead just five seconds later.

Duke never got closer than a 5-3 margin in the third, as Owen Blye and Cummings also scored in the second half to the roaring delight of teammates on the bench and red-clad fans in the stands. Maryland salted away the clock at one end and held Duke to its worst offensive output in 35 NCAA tournament games at the other. The Terps' defensive effort marked the 121st occasion of 159 games since 2002 that they've held a foe to single digits, winning 100 of those games.

Their next foe was one of those victims, but the Cavaliers are vastly different from their 12-7 loss to Maryland April 2. Terrapin players and coaches did not overlook the historic opportunity that awaits them Monday.

"It's a feeling that we're playing for all the teams that have played here the last 30 years," Catalino said. "There's a lot of guys that wish they could be out there playing with us, but they're out in the stands cheering us on."

Monday those cheers could be the Terrapins' loudest since 1975.

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