In the week leading up to the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s first-round NCAA tournament matchup with Bryant, coach John Tillman texted his squad a reminder to not underestimate the Bulldogs.
His message contained a screenshot of the final score of Bryant’s 10-9 upset win over No. 2-seed Syracuse in 2014. Attackman Dylan Maltz, who transferred to College Park before the 2015 season, was a freshman on that losing Orange side.
Tillman’s ploy helped Maryland avoid a home defeat to Bryant and advance to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. Maltz, who hadn’t scored in his previous three games, found the back of the net with a first-half strike and caused a turnover in the 13-10 win.
“Sometimes in their world I don’t have to say anything. I just text them,” Tillman said. “There are little things during the week just to get them dialed in.”
In addition to Tillman’s motivational message, veteran defensive midfielders Isaiah Davis-Allen and Nick Manis discussed the last time Maryland faced Bryant, helping teammates further prepare for the first-round tilt. In that 2014 NCAA tournament quarterfinals contest, the Terps won, 16-8, but struggled to contain the Bulldogs attack.
Former Maryland goalkeeper Niko Amato made just six saves, demonstrating the Bulldogs’ offensive efficiency.
“They didn’t have a lot of possessions, but the possessions they had generated a lot of good looks,” Tillman said. “We didn’t give up a lot of goals that day, but … they were very efficient with their offense, and that’s not OK.”
Bryant started Sunday’s contest with a similar level of attacking production. The Bulldogs took care of the ball, committing three first-half turnovers, and converted four of their nine shots on goal.
But despite a narrow 6-4 advantage at the break, Maryland didn’t worry about suffering an upset like Syracuse did against Bryant in 2014. Instead, the Terps remained level-headed and delivered an explosive second-half display.
“[The coaches] did an awesome job of keeping us calmed down,” Davis-Allen said, “especially with moments where it seemed frantic.”
Maryland pulled away in the second half with a 7-1 run spanning from the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth. While Bryant finished with a late burst that allowed it to close the gap to three with two minutes remaining, the visitors were unable to complete the comeback.
“Give Maryland credit, they had that little spurt,” Bryant coach Mike Pressler said. “They were better when the game was being decided.”
Though the Terps have made three straight Final Fours, their inability to come through in those key moments prevented them from winning a championship despite a senior class that holds the program record for wins.
But rather than shying away from their prior failures, they’ve used the disappointment to their advantage in this year’s tournament.
Tillman often focuses on taking the season one game at a time, but he’s provided the team reminders of his players’ biggest setbacks, such as Maltz’s 2014 loss to Bryant, to keep them focused on their opponents.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to talk about that because sometimes wanting to be happy and seeing the kids happy is a good motivator,” Tillman said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, remember how we felt last time? We’re not going through that again.'”