Vermont midfielder Griffin Fenech desperately searched for space as the shot clock ticked down, but instead lost the ball on a trail check resulting in a shot-clock violation.
Off the restart, Alex Smith launched the ball forward to fellow midfielder Joshua Coffman who found Jared Bernhardt just outside the crease for his fifth goal of the day. That nifty backhand finish was emblematic of Maryland’s effectiveness, consistently converting transition offense off of Vermont’s 22 turnovers. 15 of those 22 turnovers came in the first half.
The Terps ability to make the Catamounts pay for their mistakes was paramount in the 17-11 victory as they advanced to their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament Quarterfinal. Vermont entered Sunday’s game as a patient offensive team often opting for a methodical approach, using most of if not all 80 seconds of the shot clock.
However, from the outset the aggressiveness of Maryland’s defense took Vermont out of rhythm forcing them to make quick decisions offensively, causing 12 turnovers. John Geppert and Brett Makar were at the forefront of that success with a combined six forced turnovers.
“I think one of the things we wanted to make sure we did was try to make them uncomfortable,” head coach John Tillman said. “We didn’t want to be reckless, but we also wanted to make sure that we got to hands and we were able to kind of disrupt some of the feeds. I thought the guys did a good job of that early.”
Like he’s been all season, Bernhardt was the main catalyst for Maryland’s offense success with a game-high seven points (6G, 1A). Beyond the stifling defense and Bernhardt’s artistry, Justin Shockey stepped up at the faceoff X winning 12 of 20 against Tommy Burke, who entered Sunday’s game as one of the top faceoff specialists in the country.
Kyle Long tied a season-high with four points (3G, 1A), while Logan Wisnauskas (2G, 1A) and Daniel Maltz (1G, 2A) each contributed three points respectively. Griffin Brown tacked on two goals, while Bubba Fairman, Luke Wierman and Coffman each found the back of the net, rounding out Maryland’s diversified offensive attack.
“We kind of can play at any tempo and I think that’s what benefits our offense so well,” Long said. “That was really important for us today, get fast and get slow when we needed to be.”
Despite the six-goal margin of victory, the first half was a tightly contested affair for much of it. However, feeding off the Catamounts’ mistakes, Maryland executed a 5-0 run over a 5:52 span from the ladder stages of the first quarter to the early stages of the second.
After Thomas McConvey tied the game at two with 3:52 remaining in the first quarter, the Terps defense tightened, shutting out the Catamounts for the ensuing 12:41.
Three of those five goals came in the final 1:19 of the first quarter, another shining example of Maryland’s quick-strike ability offensively. Coffman’s goal was the highlight of that run as he rifled a shot top-shelf past Ryan Cornell on the cross-field skip pass from Maltz.
“When somebody different scores, it’s really exciting for the entire team,” Geppert said. “The bench gets into it a lot more. It’s almost like a goal and a half so when Josh hit that goal it was a big momentum swing. Coming from defense to offense everybody feels a little more involved, so those goals are a little special for sure.”
That momentum continued into the second quarter as Long and Maltz each converted, pushing Maryland’s lead to 7-2 with 10:27 remaining in the first half. After that, Vermont scored two of the final three goals to close out the first half, giving the Terps a four-goal lead at the break. The biggest difference at the half was Maryland’s fewer turnovers and higher percentage of faceoff victories.
Starting out the second half, Vermont struck first with a goal from JJ Levandowski on the feed from McConvey. That goal cut Maryland’s lead to 8-5 with 12:40 remaining in the third quarter. However, Maryland quickly responded with a trio of goals, the first from Bernhardt off a Vermont turnover followed up by tallies from Fairman and Wisnauskas.
That pushed Maryland’s lead to 11-5 with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter, which the Terps maintained entering the final 15 minutes. Liam Limoges and McConvey connected for the opening goal of the final quarter, but Maryland promptly answered with back-to-back goals pushing the lead to seven.
As the fourth quarter progressed, both teams combined for a flurry of seven goals in the final six minutes. Bernhardt, Brown and Wierman scored for the Terps, while Michael McCormack, McConvey, Levandowski and Burke each tallied a goal for the Catamounts.
Vermont’s three goals in the final two minutes weren’t enough as Maryland’s combination of suffocating defense and quick-strike offense proved too much.
Now, the Terps will travel to South Bend, Indiana next weekend with a matchup against No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals.
“I’m really excited for this game, it will be an awesome game,” Geppert said of the matchup with Notre Dame. “They’re a super talented team, but it’s something that we’ve been looking forward to and hoping that we got the opportunity to do all year.”