Notre Dame faces Maryland again in Final Four
Greg Hadley | Saturday, May 24, 2014
BALTIMORE, Md. – As No. 7 Notre Dame enters the NCAA semifinals Saturday in Baltimore, Md., seeking the first national championship in program history, the Irish face a familiar foe in No. 6 Maryland.
On April 19, the Irish (11-6, 2-3 ACC) hosted the Terrapins (13-3, 4-1), in each team’s last matchup before the ACC tournament. Notre Dame never led and Maryland pulled away at the end of the game, scoring four answered goals for the 12-8 win.
Six days later, the Irish, facing the possibility that a loss would cause them to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine years, faced Maryland once more in the ACC semifinals. After once again falling behind early, the Irish rallied in the rain and cold behind sophomore Matt Kavanagh, who scored the game-winning goal with seven seconds left in the contest to put Notre Dame up 6-5 and push the team to the ACC championship in its first year in the conference.
Now, the Terrapins and the Irish meet again, this time with a berth in the national championship on the line. Notre Dame has not played an opponent three times in one season since 2000. Maryland faced No. 2 Duke, also a semifinalist this weekend, three times in 2012.
“It’s a weird dynamic for both sides [playing each other so often],” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “I think both teams know who they are and you can’t vary too far from who you are. Both teams have learned each week a little bit more and some players have gotten more confidence and we’ve adjusted their roles a bit, and you might make some tweaks, but at the end of the day, we both are who we are.”
While the first game took place at Notre Dame’s home, Arlotta Stadium, and the ACC semifinals were held at a neutral site in Chester, Pa., the NCAA semifinals will be played at M&T Bank Stadium, just 30 miles from Maryland’s campus in College Park. Tillman said he does not think this will give his team too much of a competitive advantage.
“At this point in the year, everybody is just so focused on, ‘we’re here, we got here, let’s make the most of it,’” Tillman said.
Notre Dame’s 6-5 win over Maryland in the ACC semifinals marked the lowest offensive output and tied for the best defensive effort on the season for the Irish. This represented a departure from the usual, as Notre Dame, historically regarded as one of the strongest defensive units in the nation, has allowed the most goals in program history this season since 1996, while the offense is tied for the eleventh in the country.
“I think a lot of that [switch] has to do with the style that they’re playing,” ESPN senior analyst Paul Carcaterra said. “Anytime that you invest offensively and play an end-to-end style of lacrosse, you sacrifice a little on the defensive end and put your defense in a situation where there’s a little more pressure on them in terms of the tempo of the game.”
“I hope we’re always recognized as a team that cares and works very hard at playing good defense, because I think that defense is really important,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “But at the same time, you build you team around the team you have, not the team that you want to have. We’ve just tried to take advantage of the things this team does have.”
The Irish have also benefitted on the offensive side of the field with the emergence of freshman midfielder Sergio Perkovic and sophomore attackman Eddy Lubowicki as scoring threats alongside Kavanagh. Perkovic and Lubowicki rank second and third on the team in man-up goals. Notre Dame converted 54.7 percent of its man-up opportunities this year, good for second in the country.
“Eddy Lubowicki, on man-up [situations] has just done a terrific job,” Corrigan said. “It’s not always easy … in February and March, when you’re coming off the bench cold and going into play man-up. It’s not easy when you’re not getting regular runs outside of that. Yet, Eddy has come in and done a terrific job for us and been a key for our man-up.”
Maryland’s man-down defense ranks 56th in the country, but the Terrapins also feature the nation’s top defense, which allows just seven goals per game.
Notre Dame and Maryland play at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, with a berth to the national championship game on the line. The first face-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. The winner will advance to play the winner of the other semifinal game between No. 2 Denver and No. 3 Duke.