Army held a slim one-goal lead entering the final two minutes of the game, looking to trim as much clock as possible.
The Black Knights did just that, firing off a shot that went wide of the cage but reset the shot clock, adding a fresh 60 seconds to their possession.
Army moved the ball to the far sideline, sending Maryland goalkeeper Brian Ruppel out of the cage as he and the Terps desperately attempted to force a turnover.
But Gunner Fellows got open near the cage, capitalizing on an easy open-cage score to put the dagger into the hearts of the Terps.
Fellows’ goal capped off a stunning victory for Army (13-3) in the NCAA tournament first round, defeating No. 4-seed Maryland (10-6), 16-15. The Terps’ defeat marked their earliest exit in the NCAA tournament since 2013.
Army got off to a blazing start at SECU Stadium, scoring the first three goals of the evening from a trio of Black Knights. Even without Paul Johnson — Army’s second-best point-producer on the season — its offense looked seamless.
The Black Knights entered the outing with the second-highest face-off winning percentage among all Division I schools. Sophomore Will Coletti shined against Maryland’s Luke Wierman early on, winning each of the first three face-offs en route to Army’s early three-goal advantage.
When Wierman finally won his first face-off against Coletti, he cashed in, firing a look himself into the back of the net to get the Terps on the scoreboard.
But the rest of Maryland’s offense was virtually nonexistent in the opening frame. The Terps endured significant struggles against the second-best scoring defense in the nation, missing seven of the rest of their eight shots. Jack Koras was the lone Terp to strike besides Wierman.
The Terps’ defense dealt with as many troubles as its offense did in the first quarter, allowing five Black Knights to combine for seven goals. But Maryland tightened up at its conclusion, allowing just one shot on target and forcing five turnovers in the second frame, a stark difference from Army’s nine shot on goal output in the first frame.
Army’s ball control issues persisted throughout the rest of the game. The Black Knights notched eight giveaways in the second half, but were efficient in front of the net after struggling in the second quarter to remain steady with the Terps.
Maryland’s offense found new-found life in the second period, largely due to Wierman’s face-off success. Wierman won each of the first four face-offs and finished the frame having won seven of eight chances, providing his offense with scoring opportunities.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Braden Erksa was the first Terp to capitalize off Wierman’s success, striking twice within the opening minute of the period. The latter came directly off a Wierman face-off win, as the senior quickly found Erksa for a transition goal to bring Maryland within three.
Maryland’s point-leader added a pair of goals in the second half, marking his third four-score outing of the season.
“What [Erksa] did for us this year was huge,” coach John Tillman said. “Getting everybody’s best guy, that’s a lot to ask. But he was up to the challenge.”
Erksa’s two second-period scores kickstarted a phenomenal offensive frame for the Terps, as connections from Ryan Siracusa, Daniel Maltz, Eric Spanos and Zach Whittier gave Maryland its fifth six-goal period of the season.
The Terps’ ball movement and control was much better in the second quarter, finishing the 15 minutes with just one turnover and four assists on their six goals. They got off more shots on goal in the frame than they did total shots in the previous one, coming back from a five-goal deficit to enter halftime tied at eight.
A back-and-forth third frame set up Maryland with a one-goal lead entering the final 15 minutes. But the Terps collapsed with their season on the line.
Maryland had a chance to force overtime, holding possession with 36 seconds left. But the problem that plagued its unit the entire season — an offense that lacked an “alpha male,” in Tillman’s eyes — cost the Terps yet again, as neither of their final three shots found the back of the net.
The Terps watched the Black Knights storm the field as the clock hit triple zeroes, ending Maryland’s season on its home turf.
“The sad part is we won’t have another week together,” Tillman said. “That will hurt the most.”