John Tillman's first Maryland lacrosse team is long on experience and talent. It also possesses a knack for making things more difficult than necessary.
The Terrapins slogged through March, then collected thorough victories over Virginia and Navy. They squandered a large second-half edge in an overtime loss to Johns Hopkins, but bounced back with an ACC tournament title.
And as the NCAA's lacrosse committee sequestered itself in a Baltimore hotel to fill out the 16-team bracket, Maryland stumbled to a 10-8 loss to Colgate on Saturday.
The Terps (10-4), though, didn't leave the best finishing impression coming off two of their best victories of the season and potentially cost themselves a home game in the NCAA tournament.
"That's what makes me nervous about this group," Tillman said. "We're better when our backs are to the wall. At least this year, we've responded very well. Our kids care. It's not like they don't care. They love to play and know how important it is. We were just a little flat [Saturday]."
If it happens again, Maryland will find itself handing in its equipment far earlier than it wished.
It would help if Maryland got its top two scorers back. Midfielder Joe Cummings suffered a right arm injury in the ACC tournament against Duke and, not surprisingly, sat out Saturday. So, too, did attackman Grant Catalino, but his absence was more of a surprise. Tillman declined to specify Catalino's injury but insisted both players would be back at some point this month.
While Tillman and his players refused to make an issue of the ailments, the Terps are a better team when both are on the field.
That alone should help in the tournament, where Maryland likely earned itself a tougher matchup with Saturday's setback. But intriguingly, a thornier opponent sits well with a team that isn't comfortable as a target.
"I think this loss is going to make us a little bit more of an underdog, and that's the way we like to play," attackman Ryan Young said.
It's oddly illustrative of both Maryland's inconsistency and its capability. Three of the Terps' four losses came by two goals or less, including a pair in overtime. Yet they've also lost three straight at home for the first time since 1993.
Maryland was far from perfect Saturday. The Terps took ill-advised shots, committed 14 turnovers in a slow-paced game and were exploited when Colgate shrewdly pursued transition. Yet they have followed every loss with at least two victories.
"I know everybody will respond," attackman Owen Blye said. "The key is not putting ourselves in situations where we need to respond because we went out and did our job in the first place. That's ultimately where I'd like to see us."
At times, the Terps have done so this year. No more than four games remain, and a modicum of steadiness will be pivotal if Maryland is to make it to Memorial Day. The Terps couldn't let the road there be easy, but that might prove to be their preferred path while seeking a final four for the first time since 2006.
"We're coming back hungry, as hungry as we've ever been on Monday," Young said. "Even though we're pretty upset right now, we're going to be as jacked up as we possibly can be on Monday and the following week. We're not trying to end our season any time before May [30th]."
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