Maryland Men’s Lacrosse stunned by Army in first round of NCAA tournament

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

A road trip to the home of No. 4 seed Maryland didn’t seem to bother Army much. Neither did a one-goal deficit to start the fourth quarter after surrendering a five goal lead to deliver the first upset of the tournament. 

After beating Loyola last Sunday to clinch their first conference title and tournament berth in four years, the Black Knights went toe-to-toe with the defending national champions en route to a 16-15 win, solidifying their first quarterfinal appearance since 2010. 

Led by opportunistic offense and a 16-save night from Knox Dent, a defending champion has fallen in the first round for the first time since North Carolina in 2017. It is also Maryland’s earliest exit since 2013. 

Following a dismal 14-5 loss last Saturday to Michigan in the Big Ten championship, head coach John Tillman and the Terrapins were named the No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, marking their 20th straight appearance in the big dance.

After four quarters of poor play in their biggest game of the season last week, the Terps were awarded a home game in the first round, but once again looked flatfooted coming out of the tunnel.

Within the first six minutes, Army scored four goals, including two from Gunnar Fellows to jump out to an early 4-1 lead. 

Luke Wierman scored the first for the Terps to stop the bleeding, and Jack Koras added another soon after to put some pressure on the Knights, but Army ended the quarter on their second 3-0 run of the night to take a commanding 7-2 lead. 

Trailing by five and looking lifeless, Maryland needed to put some of their championship pedigree on display; they did just that. 

After a quarter where almost nothing went right, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Braden Erska scored two goals inside the first minute of the second frame to ignite the Terps, leading them on a 5-0 run to get things back to even with 3:48 to play in the half. 

“I think the biggest thing is that we had the ball. Faceoffs were seven out of eight, I felt like they didn’t have a lot of touches, and we dominated possession (in the second quarter),” said Tillman. “Where they had possession a lot early in the first quarter, I felt like we ended up turning the table.”

The two sides went into the locker room knotted at eight after trading goals to hold the tie. And following a half that featured a true tale of two quarters, including seven different goal scorers for the Terps, a nailbiter ensued.

The Terps got off to another rocky start in the third, trailing 11-9 after six minutes of action in the second half, but three unanswered goals to end the quarter put Maryland in the lead by one with 15 minutes to play. 

Without their top six scorers from last season, along with two more All-Americans in defenseman Ajax Zappitello and goalie Logan McNaney down due to injury, the Terps’ inexperience showed, losing the fourth quarter 5-3 to watch the season crumble before their eyes.

“A lot of ups and downs. Even tonight, we didn’t start great, but the way we battled sums up what this group did all year. Whether it was injuries or having to just plug guys in the lineup, the guys battled,” said graduate defenseman Brett Makar. “Couldn’t be more proud of these guys and the program is in great hands going forward.”

The Terps will lose eight players to graduation, but only four saw consistent time as the season went along. Maryland will return eight of the top ten scorers from this season, and might have their next alpha in Erksa after recording four goals and an assist in his first NCAA tournament game.

“What he [Erksa] did this year for us was huge… going up against everyone’s best defender. That’s a lot to ask and he was up for the challenge, ” said Tillman. “Obviously he’s got a super bright future and there’s so much more I think we can do with him.”

Maryland finishes the season at 10-6, while Army will await the winner of Penn State vs. Princeton in the quarterfinals. 

“I have so many people to thank, and this place has given me more than I ever imagined,” said Makar. “Everytime we went out there this season, I was just just trying to give back, and I can’t thank Tillman enough for taking a chance on me.”