No. 4 Maryland men’s lacrosse’s comeback bid falls short in 13-12 loss to Villanova

Maryland men's lacrosse runs on the field ahead of its 17-15 win over Penn on Feb. 15, 2020. (Cam Andrews/The Diamondback)

Maryland men’s lacrosse had made a habit of this, and while it hadn’t cost the team in its last two games — comeback wins over Richmond and Penn — Tuesday night was a different matter.

With eight minutes left against Villanova, attackman Daniel Maltz continued a strong start to his Terps career, slotting home a critical goal to cut the Wildcats’ advantage to four. Then midfielder Bubba Fairman found the back of the net before attackman Logan Wisnauskas eventually buried Maryland’s fourth straight strike, turning that five-goal deficit into one.

But this time, after close calls turned into narrow victories recently, that final tally wouldn’t materialize, the Wildcats emerging as 13-12 victors on a day where Maryland’s flair for the dramatic finally flamed out.

“Certainly, we didn’t play our best game,” coach John Tillman said. “We were not real efficient tonight, we weren’t real clean — a lot of really sloppy play.”

[Read more: Maryland men’s lacrosse becomes the first team since 2017 to sweep Big Ten weekly honors]

The Wildcats came into Tuesday’s affair hardened by sizable defeats to No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 Yale in their opening two games of the season. And burgeoned by a promising first-half display against the Bulldogs, Villanova made its presence felt early.

It started with a goal less than four minutes in, a bouncing ball eventually dropping into the path of attackman Corey McManus, who whipped the ball above goalkeeper Chris Brandau to push the Wildcats out in front.

A minute later, another shot rustled Brandau’s net, this time from attackman Patrick Daly. Maryland’s misery would soon compound once more, courtesy of midfielder Connor Kirst’s score.

“That top-six is good, that first midfield is about as good as just about anybody’s,” Tillman said. “If you make a mistake, they can really burn you and we broke down a couple times and they made us pay.”

[Read more: A weakness last year, Maryland men’s lacrosse excelled on extra-man chances vs. Penn]

The Terps would claw their way back, as they did against Richmond, as they did against Villanova, and it was their two attacking stalwarts — Jared Bernhardt and Wisnauskas — who would lead the way.

Wisnauskas broke the seal, netting twice in quick succession to cut the Wildcats’ advantage to one. Bernhardt, recently crowned the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week, soon made his mark, bagging two goals in a minute to level the score at four.

The topsy-turvy nature of the opening 15 minutes was a sign of things to come, the Wildcats drawing close on the first-half with a one-goal lead. By that time, Bernhardt had secured yet another hat-trick, his fourth in as many tries. Midfielder Jake Smith — a part of the second-string midfield lineup that played a crucial role in the fourth quarter against the Quakers — opened his college account with a rifled effort over goalkeeper Will Vitton’s right shoulder.

The Terps’ defensive woes, exacerbated by an inexperienced defensive corps still getting acclimated with one another, still remained, with the Wildcats holding a 26-15 edge on shots.

“At halftime, to be within one, we were pretty fortunate,” Tillman said. “We didn’t really start out of the gates well so, I was optimistic.”

But halftime wasn’t a reprieve for the Terps, though, not with the Villanova’s lead swelling to three in the third.

Yet, despite the poor performance and the offensive and defensive foibles that amassed all across the field, Maryland was well and truly in the game as it entered its final crescendo — they’ve came back from worse, after all. Three goals down against the Quakers, four goals down against the Spiders, each of which ended with the Terps scrambling around the field, romping in joy as they claimed another comeback victory.

“With these guys, they’re going to battle [for] you until the end,” Tillman said.

Tuesday felt different, though — the Wildcats were prepared for an onslaught on Vitton’s net, and ready to bring the fight to Brandau’s crease, too. And Tuesday was different, especially after midfielder Colin Crowley scored 30 seconds into the fourth frame.

Two more tallies would follow as the Wildcats’ advantage ballooned to five. Soon enough, Tillman’s squad would start its comeback campaign.

But alas, the well had dried up for the Terps, who left it too late to secure a victory over a resilient Wildcats bunch.

“We battled, we fought, fourth quarter the kids played [their] hearts out,” Tillman said. “We just gotta play cleaner, gotta play smarter, gotta play more efficiently, but just more turnovers than I can remember in a long time.”

And with a home matchup with Navy on the horizon, Tillman will be left picking up the pieces of a shock defeat, a result that — despite a series of late rallies in Maryland’s last two games — had been bubbling under the surface in the weeks prior.

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