The Maryland lacrosse team was regrouping as the NCAA tournament commenced, and it was once again reminded these Terrapins would never accomplish much with ease. It just wasn't their nature.
Instead, as the postseason beckoned, attackman Joe Cummings assessed the situation as he stood in front of his teammates a few days after Maryland limped out of its regular-season finale at Colgate with a loss.
"'We all need to play better. I need to do better. It was the end of the third quarter, and I rushed a play I needed to make,' " coach John Tillman recalled late Sunday night. "I told him that is really important for your legacy here to take accountability in front of your peers. It's not only going to affect how you're perceived, but it also helps us with younger guys to know you own up to it and move on."
So Cummings did. It was the senior who came around the right side of the cage late Sunday night to score with six seconds left, lifting Maryland to a 10-9 victory at seventh-seeded Lehigh.
The goal capped a rally from a two-goal deficit in the last 10 minutes and provided the sort of finish the Terps struggled to conjure all season.
"This is definitely one of the best memories in the four years [of my career]," Cummings said in a phone interview before a late-night bus ride back to College Park. "It'd be right up there with the Syracuse game in the quarterfinals last year."
Now he's back in the second weekend of the tournament. The Terps (10-5) won their postseason opener for the fifth straight year. They've earned double-digit wins for the 10th straight spring.
And in no small development, Maryland will meet second-seeded Johns Hopkins (12-3) on Saturday in a blockbuster quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in a rematch of the Terps' 9-6 victory last month in Baltimore.
"Should be fun," Cummings said. "I think Annapolis should be rocking."
Consider it one of Maryland's few certainties this season. The Terps remain a team in transition under Tillman, who was bequeathed a veteran team and guided it to the national title game last spring. After absorbing graduation and injury losses, this had the look of an uneven season from the start, and it was.
Cummings was and remains an ideal anchor, an understated and upbeat presence whose job evolved constantly throughout his career. Earlier a midfielder, now an attackman, always an extra-man stalwart, Cummings has a career-best 29 goals in his final season.
The latest is a lasting facet of his legacy. Lehigh switched on defense during Maryland's end-game possession of more than four minutes, leaving Cummings matched up with a weary short stick as the Terps simply waited (and waited) for an appealing shot.
It's what they couldn't do a week earlier. With the ball in his stick, Cummings wouldn't permit it to happen again.
"We had to be patient and not freak out and play as a team," Cummings said. "I think this Maryland team has grown up and we've learned some lessons, even from last week. We learned some hard lessons."
Maryland might be applying its well-earned wisdom in the final stages of the season. Its steady senior made sure it did Sunday.
"He seems to rise to the occasion and play well in important moments," Tillman said. "I don't think he wanted his career to end that way."
It didn't, not yet anyway. Cummings owned up and moved on from an early May miscue — and helped nudge his teammates along to the next round as a result.
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