March 3, 2012

Strong Defense Powers No. 5 Terps Over Duke in ACC Opener

by Matt Forman | | Twitter Related: Live Blog Replay

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Maryland freshman defenseman Goran Murray learned his assignment on Wednesday: For Saturday's top-10 matchup and ACC-opener, he would cover Duke's leading scorer and dynamic All-American attackman, Jordan Wolf.

Murray's reaction? "Play as hard as I can. I've got to help our team and show that we are a legitimate defense," he said.

Murray and Maryland were up to the task. The Terrapins jumped out to a 5-1 first-quarter lead, controlled the game's tempo and held off Duke's late rally for a 10-7 victory in front of 4,137 at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. Murray limited Wolf, the ACC's leading scorer, to one shot and one assist, while the Terps used a balanced offensive effort and 14 saves from Niko Amato to remain undefeated.

"The fast start was really important. We have so much respect for Duke. With our group being so young, getting our confidence and getting a few goals, I think that really helped us," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "You hope the win helps with confidence, but it's still the first week in March. We know it's a long season."

Sure, it's early, but Saturday's game answered an immediate question that had season-long implications: How would Maryland's inexperienced, evolving defense — Murray, Brian Cooper, Michael Erhardt and long-stick Jesse Bernhardt, which had zero combined career starts before 2012 — handle Duke's potent offense, featuring Wolf, Christian Walsh, Josh Dionne, Justin Turri, Rob Rotanz and Co.

"Going into the game, there was a lot of talk that our defense wouldn't be able to stand up against Duke's fast attack and fast offense," Murray said. "We took pride in wanting to stop that."

So you heard the grumbles outside College Park? "Yeah," Murray said.

And did you take offense to that? "That's just the way the game is. When someone says, 'You can't do this,' you do as much as you can to prove them wrong. That's the competitive spirit that our team has."

The Terps limited Duke's transition opportunities — only CJ Costabile's with 3:09 in the third came in an unsettled situation — and essentially made it a half-field game. In set situations, Maryland's fast, physical defense played a suffocating, fast-sliding style that forced Duke out of its comfort zone and didn't allow many good looks at the net. The Blue Devils took 40 shots, including 25 in the second half, but only 20 were on cage.

"Awesome team defense," Murray said. "Our guys do a great job of getting in the passing lanes, staying as a help guy for the defense if we need a slide or a fake-slide. It's great team defense. Talking a lot. When the offense gets frustrated, we get hyped. That's what Maryland is about: team defense."

Erhardt forced four turnovers against Dionne, who led Duke with three goals, while Cooper caused two turnovers and picked up two ground balls in a matchup with Walsh. And though they don't show up in the stat sheet, Murray also did a nice job of backing up a handful of shots to swing possession in the Terps' favor.

Maryland senior midfielder Drew Snider paced an otherwise-balanced Terps offense that featured 10 players with points, including eight different goal scorers. Snider scored the game's first goal on an alley dodge less than a minute in, starting a 4-0 run to open the game.

Maryland went into intermission with a 7-2 lead but took its foot off the gas in the second half. Several turnovers, failed clears and penalties gave Duke life.

"We were up, and we're a young team, and our natural instinct was to relax a little bit," Snider said. "We were a little sloppy. We also did that in the Georgetown game. We can't be doing that if we want to be in the final four or championship game come May. We'll clean it up."

The Blue Devils outshot Maryland 25-6 in the second half, as Costabile won 10-of-18 faceoffs (4-of-5 in the fourth quarter), which helped them dominate possession. But Amato made big save after big save — nine in the fourth quarter alone, including one where he went high-to-low in the blink of an eye to stone Dionne.

"We gave up some shots, but luckily Niko stepped up and held them off," Tillman said. "We know it wasn't going to be pretty. We've talked about that all year: Just grind out wins. Grind it out, and keep fighting. If you keep grinding, gut it out, we can find a way at the end to win. We survived a little bit. I'm glad there wasn't a fifth period, that's for sure."

But using all of its energy to mount a comeback, and playing without junior David Lawson, Duke's midfield seemed to lose its momentum in the waning minutes. The Blue Devils didn't play their second-unit midfield on Saturday as much as they normally would, if fully healthy.

Lawson suffered an undisclosed minor leg injury, according to Duke's sports information staff. Coach John Danowski said Lawson stretched on the field before the game but couldn't play, which put Jake Tripucka in a position to get most of Lawson's normal runs.

But the story Saturday was Maryland's young defense. After losing Max Schmidt, Brett Schmidt and Ryder Bohlander to graduation, plus Jake Bernhardt and Casey Ikeda to injury, there were questions about how the Terps would handle ACC offenses. Not any longer.

"They did a great job. They really hung in there," Tillman said. "Give a lot of credit to coach [Kevin] Warne and coach [Brian] Phipps, they do a great job with the defensive game plans and individual instruction. But I also give our guys a lot of credit. This group has really studied a lot of film. They've put it a lot of long hours. They're getting the rewards for all their hard work and effort."

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