Memorial Day Weekend provides amazing matchups and the excitement of playing to secure your place in history. Our second recap of the day, Duke vs Maryland.
DUKE VS MARYLAND : SEMIFINAL RECAP
In hindsight, maybe we should’ve seen this coming. Every single season, some team in the NFL goes out and spends a zillion dollars in free agency. That team almost never wins much of anything. Think back to the Vince Young “Dream Team” Eagles. Remember when the Rams traded all their first round picks away to make a title run? Perhaps, then, the fate of the 2021 Duke Blue Devils begins to make a little bit more sense.
Talent over Team
When Duke secured a fistful of the most sought-after transfer portal guys at the beginning of this season, we (the collective lax media) bought into the hype. Here was a Duke team that was always in contention already, that had strong pieces returning in guys like Nakeie Montgomery, JT Giles-Harris, and the like. Now, they’d also have a superstar in Princeton’s Michael Sowers and the best goalie they’ve had in quite some time in St. John’s Mike Adler. We looked at the roster on paper, and we saw greatness. If NCAA Lacrosse 21 was a video game, these dudes would win every simulation.
But that’s not how lacrosse works. Sowers, it turns out, wasn’t the perfect fit for Duke. He’s a jitterbug, a lightning-fast player who can work wonders with the ball in his stick. Why, then, did Duke never truly let him? Instead of building around Sowers, who finished his career only trailing Lyle Thompson in career points, Duke tried to force a square peg into a round hole, making Sowers just one guy in Duke’s slow, methodical system.
Compare that to Maryland, the still-undefeated 3-seed who will be making yet another appearance in the title game. Their offensive system features a ton of talent, but they didn’t build a Ferrari and then try to have six guys in a trench coat drive it. They handed the keys to Jared Bernhardt, and watched him shatter program records on his way to (barring a massive shocker) a Tewaaraton trophy and a berth in the national championship game. Rather than go hunting for pure talent, Maryland focused on what makes it program great: smart, team-first players on offense, an elite team-first defense, and the Be the Best mentality that drives Terps to seemingly spend a lot more time in the weight room than other programs (these boys thicccccc).
Game Recap : DUKE VS MARYLAND
That team-first mentality showed up today. Nine of Maryland’s 15 goals were assisted. 10 guys, including defenseman Brett Makar, recorded a point today, in spite of the fact that Bernhardt had 7 (5G, 2A) all by himself. Redshirt freshman goalie Logan McNaney turned in his best performance of his young career, going off for 17 saves. It helps that Duke was forced into a ton of bad takes by a Maryland defense that stifled nearly every good shooting opportunity. Makar and fellow All-American defenseman Nick Grill had fantastic games, helping hold the Sowers-O’Neill pairing to just three goals on 13 combined shots. As a whole, Maryland’s defense held Duke to a dismal 15.6% shooting percentage as a team.
In fact, Maryland won all over the field, not just on the scoreboard. In my prediction for this game, I chose Duke because I thought they had the advantage in both goalie and faceoff play. Well, that was a lie. Adler did manage 11 saves, but his 44% was significantly lower than his season average. More surprisingly, Jake Naso won just 36% of his draws today at the faceoff stripe, and Duke as a whole won just 11 of the game’s 24 faceoffs.
For Duke, a one-year window afforded by the transfer portal comes to a close. They’ll bring back a ton of talent for 2022, but their key losses (including national defensive player of the year JT Giles-Harris along with Sowers and others) mean that this is a team that will enter next year with some question marks. Brennan O’Neill should continue his development into a future Tewaaraton candidate and Mike Adler returns for another season in Durham, but they won’t be the level of favorite they were entering this year. Perhaps, though, that’ll ultimately be better for them. Developing their homegrown talent like O’Neill and Naso might ultimately be the better way back to Memorial Day.
For the Terps, they find themselves back in the championship game for the first time since 2017, when this senior class helped Maryland to its most recent national championship in their freshmen seasons. They’ll face off against their third-straight ACC opponent, this time the defending national champions Virginia. Regardless of how that game goes, today’s performance basically wraps up the Tewaaraton race up for Bernhardt. Already the favorite entering the playoffs, he’s put up 16 goals and 3 assists en route to a national championship appearance, and has already outlasted every single other finalist (personally ousting both Sowers and Notre Dame’s Pat Kavanagh).
The NCAA Committee is likely kicking itself for ranking these guys third in the seeding (if not, Duke and Notre Dame would sure like to be kicking them for making them face these guys earlier than Memorial Day). The Terps will almost certainly be favored in Monday’s game. They’ll need to slow down a red-hot Virginia team, but Virginia’s strengths (hot goaltender, great faceoff guy, offensive superstar in Connor Shellenberger) aren’t too dissimilar to the Duke team that Maryland just beat the brakes off of. Should the Terps go on to win on Monday, they’ll cement themselves as the first undefeated team since 2006, and take their spot amongst the greatest teams in the sport’s history (as well as cement Jared Bernhardt as one of the best to ever do it in college lacrosse). That’s definitely what I would consider an opportunity to #BeTheBest.
Catch up on the UNC vs Virginia game here.