Behind unselfish offense and suffocating defense No. 3 seed Maryland men’s lacrosse dispatches No. 2 seed Duke advancing to National Championship game

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Jared Bernhardt patiently operated at X quickly planting his foot in the ground dodging towards goal-line extended. Anticipating the slide coming from the far side, Bernhardt lofted a pass over the double team to Bubba Fairman who cut to the open area.

Fairman promptly beat Mike Adler with the jump shot, pushing Maryland’s lead to 8-3 with 1:22 remaining in the first half. 

That goal was Maryland’s (15-0) fourth in a 1:48 span in the final three minutes of the first half and one of its seven unanswered goals, smothering No. 2 seed Duke (14-3) in the 14-5 victory. After a sluggish opening quarter with eight turnovers, Maryland’s offensive fluidity compounded with its stifling defense swarmed the Blue Devils.

“Just so proud of the guys, a team effort I thought from defense to face-offs to goalie play to offense,” head coach John Tillman said. “Probably the best 60 minutes we played all year.”

Duke entered Saturday’s contest averaging 14.81 goals per game, but the Blue Devils were never able to get in a rhythm due to Maryland’s hounding defense. Logan McNaney tallied a career-high 17 saves, consistently squaring up to shooters shutting down their shot angles. 

The Blue Devils dynamic attack trio of Michael Sowers, Brennan O’Neill and Joe Robertson combined for just five points, unable to counteract Maryland’s sound fundamentals and footwork defensively. Maryland’s defense consistently placed their sticks in the passing lane, as Matt Rahill led the unit with three caused turnovers.

“Duke has some unbelievable players across the board, we just wanted to make sure that we executed our gameplan,” Nick Grill said. “I think Logan showed everybody how good he is, how underrated he is.”

The Terps’ offensive continuity was keyed by their unselfishness with nine assists on 14 goals, rotating the Blue Devils defense from side-to-side. Bernhardt’s sublime play-making and unmatched athleticism catalyzed that ball movement with a team-high seven points (5G, 2A), also setting the program record with 94 points so far this season.

While Bernhardt spearheaded the offense, Justin Shockey dominated at the face-off X winning 11 of 21 overall and nine of 13 in the first half. Shockey consistently allowed the Terps to maintain possession and capped off a dominating performance with his first goal of the season in the first half. 

Although he exchanged time with Luke Wierman at the X the past couple of weeks, Shockey cleanly won the opening face-off and set the tone from there. Beyond Bernhardt, Maryland’s depth and versatility offensively was on full display. Anthony DeMaio notched four points (2G, 2A), Logan Wisnauskas tacked on three points (2G, 1A), while Eric Holden and Fairman each added a goal and an assist.

“Once they slide you just move the ball, we’ve got a good group an unselfish group and someone is going to be open,” Bernhardt said.

Despite the lopsided scoreline, both teams struggled in the first quarter with a combined three goals and 13 turnovers. However, in the second quarter, the flow of play increased with both teams exchanging goals in the opening three minutes. 

After Sowers trimmed Maryland’s lead to one with 5:20 remaining in the first half, Maryland responded in a big way with the aforementioned run before the half. Wisnauskas and Griffin Brown each displayed their lacrosse IQ cutting to open areas, beating Adler on feeds from DeMaio and Bernhardt respectively.

From there, Maryland continued to maintain possession tacking on two more goals from Shockey and Fairman, setting up a five-goal lead at the break. Those final five minutes of the first half served as a springboard for the Terps and epitomized their complete 60-minute effort.

“I thought Justin Shockey gave us great minutes today, when you get a goal from your face-off guy that’s a big energy boost,” Tillman said.

Building on their momentum from the ladder stages of the first half, the Terps surge continued to flourish in the second half. Converting defense into offense, Roman Puglise scored Maryland’s ninth goal of the game in transition after McNaney stuffed O’Neill. 

As the third quarter progressed, Duke’s offensive struggles persisted and Maryland’s offensive cohesiveness remained. Wisnauskas and Bernhardt each tallied goals pushing Maryland’s lead to eight and the Blue Devils’ hopes of a comeback farther and farther away.

Dyson Williams ended Duke’s 17:58 scoring drought with eight seconds left in the third quarter, as the Terps sustained a commanding seven-goal lead after three quarters. However, the Terps’ quelled the Blue Devils’ hopes for a comeback with the first two goals of the fourth quarter from Holden and DeMaio.

The final five minutes both teams exchanged goals, as Maryland cruised to its first National Championship berth since 2017 with a matchup against No. 4 seed Virginia.

As the final whistle sounded, a sea of red jerseys flanked by white numbers sprinted onto the field pushing the Terps one step closer to a perfect season and a National Championship.

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