FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Duke coach John Danowski couldn’t explain it. Truth be told, his counterpart at Maryland, John Tillman, couldn’t either.
The explosive Duke offense couldn’t produce when it mattered. Its swarming defense evaporated as a steamy New England afternoon gave way to evening. And Maryland couldn’t stop scoring.
“Sometimes things go your way,” Tillman said. “You have one of those days, and that’s part of it. I do think our guys seized the moment.”
That’s one way to describe Maryland’s 16-10 evisceration of third-seeded Duke in the NCAA tournament semifinals before 31,774 at Gillette Stadium. The Terps made 16 of 29 shots en route to their second straight appearance in the national title game. They’ll face top-seeded Loyola (17-1) in Monday’s title game.
“If you can shoot that kind of percentage, you have a pretty good shot at it,” long pole Jesse Bernhardt said in a bit of an understatement.
Drew Snider scored four goals for the unseeded Terps (12-5), becoming the first Maryland player with three hat tricks in a postseason since Joe Walters in 2005.
The senior, who matched a career high for goals, had plenty of company from teammates enjoying their finest days in some time. Kevin Cooper doubled his career-best with four assists. Owen Blye had only his fourth career hat trick.
Then there was freshman Kevin Forster, who had one point all season and it came in the Feb. 18 opener. He had two goals and an assist against Duke.
For their part, the Blue Devils (15-5) lost to Maryland in the semifinals for the second consecutive season.
“They were better than us today,” Duke long pole CJ Costabile said. “They played all parts of the game offensively. Defensively, we couldn’t stop them.”
It was a glaring no-show for the Blue Devils, particularly a little more than a month after limiting Maryland to just five goals in an ACC semifinal victory. Duke blazed through much of April with a suffocating defense that at times seemed to have eight men on the field rather than six.
There were no such illusions Saturday. The Terps scored the first three goals. When Duke closed within 4-3, Maryland scored two more.
And when the Blue Devils’ offense finally materialized to cut the Terps’ lead from 9-4 to 10-8, Snider and Blye ignited a six-goal spurt to extinguish any doubt in the outcome.
“There were times during the year when the ball would die,” Tillman said. “Today, they slid a little more than we expected and as soon as the guys would slide, we shared it and were unselfish enough to trust our teammates and bang it and let somebody else make the play.”
Maryland hadn’t scored 16 goals since March 10. It hadn’t scored so many goals in a postseason game since 2006. It hadn’t shredded Duke’s defense so thoroughly since 2004. And it hadn’t authored such a potent offensive performance on the sport’s biggest stage since the 1998 semifinals.
“Right now, we’re figuring each other out,” Cummings said.
It’s a welcome development for a Maryland bunch defined for most of the season by its predictably erratic play. Two steps forward, one step back, over and over again.
Now the Terps are back where they started on the first weekend of February, when they scrimmaged Loyola at a time no one would have guessed either team would play on the season’s final day.
“It seems like a year ago, maybe years. We still remember we lost to them,” Snider said. “I know it’s a scrimmage, but we want to win. We lost Jake [Bernhardt to injury] then and it took a toll on us mentally, I think, throughout that scrimmage. We’ve come a long way from that preseason scrimmage.”
That’s understood easily enough. But trying to figure out why Maryland played with such ferocious efficiency while the Duke defense simultaneously came up so small? Good luck with that.
“I thought our guys backed down at times,” Danowski said.
Accordingly, Maryland will be back on Memorial Day, the benefactor of a different script than last year’s semifinal Saturday but with a result to savor nonetheless.
• Patrick Stevens can be reached at email@example.com.
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