Maryland men’s lacrosse entered Saturday with the worst scoring offense among NCAA tournament teams. The unit shot under 40 percent in all but one of its pre-NCAA tournament contests.

That wasn’t the case in the Terps’ first round bout with Princeton.

After converting just nine seconds in, Maryland went on to score its most first-quarter goals since early March. A five-goal run pushed the Terps ahead by seven in less than 21 minutes. They exceeded their scoring average in the first half alone.

Maryland’s offense had its best performance of the season in the first two quarters. The No. 7-seeded Terps used the early onslaught to cruise past the Tigers, 16-8, at SECU Stadium.

“I do think they realized this is the end, so it’s either now or never,” coach John Tillman said.

The win advanced Maryland (9-5) to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, where it’ll face No. 2 seed Duke in Hempstead, N.Y. next Saturday.

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The Terps shot 55 percent in the first half, with five of their six starting attackers and midfielders finding the back of the net. Maryland added five second-half goals to seal the win.

Jack Koras started the Terps’ scoring with an immediate goal off Luke Wierman’s win of the initial faceoff. Koras scored Maryland’s first goal of the second quarter and added a late second-quarter goal for his third hat trick this season.

Eric Spanos joined Koras with a first-half hat trick. All three goals came in a 5-0 Terps run between the first and second quarters. The junior added another score late in the third quarter for his third four-goal game of the season.

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

Daniel Kelly struck twice in a five-second span midway through the opening period. It was Kelly’s fifth straight start, this time playing in place of Braden Erksa, who left the Terps’ previous contest after taking a hard hit. Erksa played against Princeton (11-5) off the bench.

Players celebrate during Maryland men’s lacrosse’s 16-8 NCAA tournament first round win over Princeton on May 11, 2024. (Eric Robinson/The Diamondback)

Kelly’s second goal gave Maryland a 3-0 lead less than 10 minutes in, just like in the regular season meeting between the schools. The Terps won that contest 13-7.

Eric Malever struck twice in the second quarter to aid a 10-goal lead at halftime — Maryland’s largest lead at any point in the season.

His first was a dazzling display of footwork.

Malever ran behind the cage, quickly stopping and turning to his right. He then juked a Princeton defender for an easy goal in a one-on-one matchup with goalkeeper Michael Gianforcaro. Malever added an early fourth quarter score for his second hat trick this season.

Gianforcaro endured a horrendous first half. The senior saved just one of Maryland’s 11 shots on goal, ending the night with a 36 percent save rate. He entered the contest with the sixth-best save percentage among all Division I players.

[Daniel Kelly has shuffled through different roles for Maryland men’s lacrosse]

Wierman assisted Maryland’s dominant first-half offense with a 13-15 showing at the X. The program’s all-time faceoff wins leader won a season-best 87 percent of his faceoffs in the February meeting with Princeton and won 76.9 percent on Saturday.

Nate Kabiri, Tucker Wade and Lukas Stanat were the lone Tigers to score in the first half. Kabiri led Princeton with three goals on the night.

Big Ten Defender of the Year Ajax Zappitello stifled first team All-Ivy League attacker Coulter Mackesy with zero goals on his five first-half shots. Mackesy finished with just one goal.

Zappitello led an excellent defensive showing — Princeton converted just 25.8 percent of its shots and tied its season high of 19 turnovers. The Tigers struggled to reach the interior of the Terps’ defense.

Goalkeeper Logan McNaney excelled in the limited looks against him, ending the contest with a 57.9 percent save rate.

“Our defense, when they’re clicking, they’re one of the best defenses in the country,” Malever said.

The win improved Tillman to 7-0 all-time against Princeton.

Maryland’s win helped it avoid a first round exit for the second straight season. It advanced to the quarterfinals for the ninth time in the last 11 tournaments. The meeting with Duke next Saturday will be the Terps’ third against their former ACC rival since moving to the Big Ten.

“When it’s May we know what to expect,” Malever said.

Players celebrate during Maryland men’s lacrosse’s 16-8 NCAA tournament first round win over Princeton on May 11, 2024. (Eric Robinson/The Diamondback)