By Luke Gentile
Maryland lacrosse (13-3), the No. 1 ranked team in the country and defending national champions, escaped a first round exit in the NCAA tournament May 13, coming from behind to defeat Robert Morris University (13-5) in a 14-11 win.
The Terps entered their 41st NCAA tournament with a 2-0 record against Robert Morris, and they got on the board early as senior midfielder Adam DiMillo scored within the opening minutes.
However, the momentum soon swung in favor of Robert Morris. A string of sloppy turnovers by the Terrapin’s offense gave the Colonials fast breaks and odd-man situations to capitalize on.
“They are really good at creating transitions, and those poles have great handles, they can all score,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “They were getting a shot off and bleeding the clock down, and we just couldn’t get the ball or get much rhythm. I mean we took three shots in the first quarter, and I bet we played 12 minutes of defense.”
Senior midfielder Connor Kelly, who has been the Terrapins’ water in the desert, was nowhere to be found in the first quarter, as he we was double-teamed every time he touched the ball.
Robert Morris senior defender Zachary Bryant was responsible for Kelly’s first quarter woes.
“He’s a great player. He’s like 6’6 and lengthy, so he was tough to beat at some times,” Kelly said. “Credit to him, that guy is a hell of a player.”
In the defensive zone, things were not better. Quick passes opened up the Maryland defense, and behind-the-net runs seemed unstoppable. By the time the horn sounded for halftime, Robert Morris had put up 22 shots and were ahead 6-3.
“They have a lot of Canadian guys who have been playing box, and they have a lot of good stick skills,” said Dan Morris, Maryland’s senior goalie. “I think they were just moving the ball around. They have a lot of good dodgers, and they were getting to good spots and getting good shots off.”
This three-goal deficit was the largest that Tillman’s team has faced this year, and the second time a No. 1 seed has trailed at halftime of a first-round game since the tournament moved to a 16-team format.
However, big players respond in big moments, and when Kelly is on the field it’s only a matter of time before he strikes. The Tewaaraton Award finalist scored three of his four goals in the third quarter, including a dazzling shot through traffic that put the Terps ahead by two.
Heading into the second half, Kelly said, “I don’t think there was any frustration whatsoever … we were poised.”
Kelly’s fourth goal placed him at 77 points on the season, good for fourth most in a single-season in program history.
Senior attack Colin Giblin and senior Tim Rotanz added more to the Terps goal tally, and in the final minutes, freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman put the game away with an unassisted goal following a great inside run.
“We candidly have another week together, which we don’t take for granted,” Tillman said. “[Robert Morris was] what we expected, a real tough team: athletic, dangerous, skilled, very competitive, and it took everything we had to come back and get a win. I’m proud of our guys.”