Maryland men’s lacrosse cruises to 16-8 win over Princeton in first round of NCAA Tournament

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland men’s lacrosse has seen this movie before. This time, however, the team changed what could have been a horror flick-style ending.

Avoiding a repeat from last year, the Terps utilized a new-look yet diversified offense and an overpowering performance on faceoffs to wallop visiting Princeton, 16-8, in an NCAA Tournament first-round matchup Saturday night before an announced 3,195 at SECU Stadium.

Senior midfielders Jack Koras and Eric Malever had three goals and two assists each, and junior attackman Eric Spanos scored four goals to send seventh-seeded Maryland (9-5) to Saturday’s quarterfinal at Hofstra in Hempstead, New York. The Terps will clash with No. 2 seed Duke (13-5), which pummeled Atlantic Sun Tournament titlist Utah, 19-7, earlier in the day.

Maryland scored the game’s first three goals and then tallied five straight goals in a 6:41 span bridging the first and second quarters to take a commanding 8-1 advantage. The Terps added three more goals in 71 seconds to enjoy an 11-3 lead at halftime.

“Something we were preaching on this week was tempo,” Spanos said. “At times, we were playing slow and stuff. So I think that was a huge thing. It just opened up on the back end a lot of stuff for us.”

The output helped negate an error-filled game that contributed to 19 turnovers, tying a season worst. That type of effort won’t help against Duke, which induced Utah into turning the ball over 16 times.

Graduate student goalkeeper Logan McNaney (11 saves) outdueled Tigers senior Michael Gianforcaro (nine saves), and the Terps limited Princeton’s starting attack of junior Coulter Mackesy and freshmen Nate Kibiri and Colin Burns to five goals on 17 shots and two assists while committing four turnovers.

Mackesy — who was covered by Maryland senior defenseman Ajax Zappitello (three caused turnovers, one ground ball) — called him “one of the best defenders in the country.”

“I usually practice against [senior defenseman] Pace [Billings] and those guys, so I’m pretty well prepared,” Mackesy said. “But once you knock down that domino, you’ve got to face another domino and get it past the goalie. It’s a tough challenge.”

The Terps defense got a significant respite from Luke Wierman, who won 20 of 26 faceoffs, scooped up a game-high 15 ground balls and dished off an assist. He went 20 of 23 with 13 ground balls in the regular-season meeting with Princeton, which coach Matt Madalon hoped to reverse.

“We thought we’d be able to scrap there and battle there,” he said. “Honestly, for the first half, I thought we were doing a good job and executing our game plan. But man, they made a heck of a lot of plays in the middle of the field, and that’s where we got beat up the most, just kind of those 50-50 ground balls. It wasn’t even anything schematic. It was just Wierman being a really tough kid and making some really impressive plays.”

Kibiri paced Princeton with three goals, Mackesy added one goal and two assists, and junior defenseman Colin Mulshine finished with three caused turnovers and three ground balls. But the Tigers (11-5) fell in the first round for the fourth time in their last five NCAA Tournament appearances and have lost their past three postseason meetings with the Terps.

On May 13, 2023, the Terps were the No. 4 seed but got stunned by Army West Point, 16-15, to mark their earliest exit from the NCAA Tournament since 2013 when that squad — the No. 8 seed at the time — was blitzed by Cornell, 16-8.

Koras’ first goal off a faceoff win by Wierman just nine seconds into the game spurred the offense to its most goals scored this season. That the 7:30 p.m. against the Tigers was the same day and time as the loss to the Black Knights last spring wasn’t lost on Maryland coach John Tillman.

“As fate would have it, we kind of had the same game time a year later, and I just felt we were better in the moment,” he said. “It just seemed like we were an older team, and our older guys really helped us. Koras, I thought that goal coming out of the get-go with Luke making a really good play on the faceoff. I thought that was good for our confidence, just getting one.”

Saturday’s victory assured that Maryland was not bounced from the first round in back-to-back NCAA appearances since the 1993 and 1994 seasons.

The Terps also dodged ending the season with six losses in their past 10 games and a three-game losing streak. The last time they dropped three games in a row was in 2009 when that team fell to Virginia, Navy and Johns Hopkins in three consecutive weekends.

Maryland collected its eighth straight victory over the Tigers, which included a 13-7 cruising at home on Feb. 24. Princeton entered the game on a four-game winning streak but the Terps seemed unfazed.

With sophomore attackman Braden Erksa available but not making his 14th start of the season because of a concussion suffered in a 19-9 setback to Penn State in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal on May 2, Maryland made some personnel changes to its usual starting offense.

Related Articles

Spanos shifted from midfield to attack to join fifth-year senior Daniel Maltz and senior Daniel Kelly. Malever moved from attack to midfield to team up with Koras and graduate student Ryan Siracusa.

Erksa, who entered the game leading the team in points (36) and tied for the lead in goals (22), didn’t get cleared to play until Friday and played sparingly. He took five shots and committed one turnover.

The alterations paid off handsomely. Kelly, a Towson resident and Calvert Hall graduate, racked up two goals and one assist, Maltz scored twice and Siracusa chipped in one goal and one assist.

Maryland earned another week of practice and Tillman said that should be enough motivation at this point in the season.

“I do think they realize that this is the end,” he said. “So it’s either now or never.”