Three takeaways from Maryland’s loss to Missouri State in the second round of the NCAA tournament

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

A cagey match between Maryland and Missouri State exploded into life in the last 10 minutes.

The Terps thought they scored the winner in the 84th minute after senior forward Eric Matzelevich met redshirt sophomore defender Nick Richardson’s cross with a diving header at the back post.

But just two minutes later sophomore forward Jon Koka found himself in plenty of space at the back post after a flick from freshman forward Jesus Barea. Koka slotted it past Maryland’s freshman goalkeeper Jamie Lowell for the Bears’ equalizer.

Koka got in behind Maryland’s defense again after it failed to deal with a through ball, and he found the back of the net with just 35 seconds left to send Missouri State to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Here are my three takeaways from Maryland’s second round loss to Missouri State in the NCAA tournament.

Maryland failed to create quality chances

Missouri State dominated the first 30 minutes of the game, with Maryland unable to get much going forward. Then Maryland’s leading scorer, redshirt senior forward Paul Bin, and freshman forward Jacen Russell-Rowe came into the match. Both were returning from injury, and in the last 15 minutes of the half the Terps were able to get on the front foot and create some chances. However, Maryland still failed to register a shot on target in the first half.

The second half was much more even, with Maryland registering seven shots to Missouri State’s eight, however, only two of the Terps’ shots were on target.

Maryland’s best chance of the match came on its goal. Lowell scooped up the ball and quickly threw it out wide to Richardson, starting a counter attack. Matzelevich picked up the ball from Richardson and passed it to Gielen, who held it up and found Richardson making a long run down the left-hand side. Richardson crossed it with the outside of his right foot and found Matzelevich at the back post, who headed it in to give the Terps the lead.

Unfortunately, that was the only time the Terps were able to capitalize on the counter attack, as Missouri State did well getting numbers back and preventing Maryland’s forwards from linking up with its midfield.

The Terps still had a great chance to equalize with 20 seconds left after redshirt senior goalkeeper Michael Creek failed to deal with a cross. The ball dropped to sophomore midfielder Justin Harris, but he put his shot over an open goal with the last kick of the game.

With senior forwards Bin, Matzelevich, and Mike Heitzmann all potentially leaving, the Terps will hope that the forwards in its new class, Caden Stafford, Marcus Garcia, and Kyle Brown, will help to bolster Maryland’s attack next season.

Defensive breakdowns cost the Terps

Maryland defended pretty well throughout the first 85 minutes of the match, with freshman defender Kento Abe a notable performer in his first career start for the Terps. It all fell apart in the last five minutes.

Missouri State’s first goal came after a weak clearance from Maryland, and the Terps didn’t do well enough as a defensive line to push up and allow the Bears less space. This gave sophomore midfielder Kian Yari enough time to pick out senior midfielder Josh Dolling, who pushed inside and brought Abe from his right back position with him. 

All it took was two one-touch passes to get past four flat-footed Terps, and because Maryland’s right midfielder Justin Harris failed to cover for Abe who had pushed into the middle, Koka had plenty of space to slot home the equalizer for the Bears.

Missouri State’s second goal came after junior defender Brett St. Martin whiffed on a clearance from a through ball from junior forward Nicolo Mulatero. Koka pounced on it and beat a helpless Lowell with another left-footed strike to win it for the Bears with just 35 seconds remaining.

Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski was disappointed with Maryland’s defense at the end of the match.

“We got a little sloppy at the end, it’s that simple,” Cirovski said. “We should have been able to close this game out. The way we defended for 85 minutes was great and the last five minutes we just didn’t defend well.”

The mistakes were a bit uncharacteristic of the Terps, and Maryland was a bit unlucky that Koka had the quality to finish both chances. However, the national tournament is unforgiving, and Cirovski will be keen to make sure that mistakes don’t become commonplace in his back line, especially in big games.

Despite a disappointing end to the season, there’s plenty for Maryland to be excited about

After a disappointing 0-3 start to the season, Maryland was able to finish its regular season on a 4-0-1 run. The Terps also advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and made their 20th straight NCAA tournament. While the Terps did crash out disappointingly in the second round, there were plenty of young players who made an impact throughout the shortened season.

Freshman goalkeeper Jamie Lowell began the year as the starting goalkeeper for Maryland before being dropped for German sophomore Niklas Neumann, who wasn’t available for Maryland’s first three matches. 

However, Lowell worked his way back into the starting lineup and had a very impressive performance in Maryland’s Big Ten Quarterfinal penalty shootout win over Rutgers, making four saves and another save in the penalty shootout. 

Lowell also stood out against Missouri State, making five saves. He made four of those saves in the first half, keeping the struggling Terps in the game and will hope to build on a positive end to the season by securing a starting spot next year.

Redshirt sophomore midfielder/defender Nick Richardson built on an impressive redshirt freshman year at defensive midfielder by shifting back to right back (and occasionally left back), the position he was recruited to play. 

Richardson started all 11 games this season and led the team in assists with three, including an assist against Missouri State. With freshman left back and German youth international Alex Nitzl also impressing in his first season with the Terps, it wouldn’t be surprising if Cirovski has found his favored full-back pairing for the foreseeable future.

Freshman midfielder Ben Bender helped run Maryland’s midfield, starting all 11 games in his first season with the Terps. The central midfielder notched two goals and earned All-Big Ten Second Team and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors. He is immensely talented on the ball and still has plenty of room to improve. After the success of his freshman year, it looks like he’ll be a staple of Maryland’s midfield for years to come.

Freshman forward Jacen Russell-Rowe made his presence known immediately, scoring a screamer from 30 yards out in his debut at Penn State. The Canadian youth international notched two goals in his first season at Maryland and earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors. Russell-Rowe struggled a bit with injuries throughout the year, missing most of the postseason, but will be involved in an attack looking to improve next season.