Despite Grand Stage, Expect Business As Usual for Terps, Buckeyes in NCAA Men's Final

Maryland and Ohio State will square off Monday at 1 p.m. in the third meeting between the teams this season. (Photos by John Strohsacker, Rich Barnes)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Don’t look for wide eyes during Monday’s NCAA men’s lacrosse title game. There might not be two teams more adept at handling matters methodically than Maryland and Ohio State.

That’s to be expected from the top-seeded Terrapins (15-3), who have become Memorial Day regulars under coach John Tillman. Maryland is making its third consecutive appearance in the final and its fifth in the last seven years.

“We’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of mature seniors, and obviously they’re leading the way for us,” junior midfielder Connor Kelly said. “Over the last two years coming to championship weekend, we have a lot of experience that’s helped us.”

The third-seeded Buckeyes (16-4) are relative newcomers in their first final four, but aside from some early nerves in Saturday’s semifinal defeat of Towson they have appeared unflappable throughout the postseason.

Ohio State smothered Loyola in the first round, pounded Duke in the quarterfinals and then erased a five-goal hole Saturday before fending off Towson 11-10.

On the surface, the Buckeyes appear to reflect Nick Myers, their ultra-focused coach. Given multiple opportunities over the last two weekends to ponder a big-picture impact of Ohio State’s run, he has passed on that while looking ahead to the next game.

One way or the other, Monday’s game is the last one of the year for the Buckeyes, and they plans to stick with a dialed-in mentality centered far more around granular details than any historical meaning.

“I like to think that’s just who we are,” Myers said. “Maybe when we’re seen on TV, it looks businesslike, but we have fun, too. These guys, you can tell. Myself included, there’s time for that. There is time to be loose. ... We can joke around and have a little fun. That’s been something I’ve been really impressed with in terms of the way these men have been able to balance that.”

Their last test is a familiar one. Ohio State won the regular-season meeting 11-10 in overtime, a game Maryland played without attackman Colin Heacock. The Terrapins snagged the rematch 10-9 in the Big Ten title game, which like the first encounter was played in Columbus. It marked the third time in five games the teams had played a one-goal game since the Big Ten’s formation.

“We felt like that night looking at each other, not knowing how this thing was going to turn out, we said ‘Hey, we’re going to see these guys again if we take care of our business.’” Myers said.

The Buckeyes did, as they often have while setting a school record for victories in a season. So did Maryland, which handled Bryant in the first round, pummeled Albany in the quarterfinals and outlasted Denver in a low-possession game Saturday.

Unlike two years ago, when the Terps had to get ready for a Denver bunch they’d never seen on a short turnaround, they possess a deep understanding of Ohio State. It will be only 23 days since they last encountered the Buckeyes, and they did so with a quick turnaround from the Big Ten semis.

It also is the first time in tournament history the finalists have met for the third time in a season.

“The fact that we played them not only once but twice does help both teams and the kids to be a little more focused on getting your rest and things like that, and you don’t have to cram for the exam,” Tillman said.

Maryland also knows the routine of prepping for a national title game on short rest. Those experiences, even if they weren’t fulfilling at the time, provide a road map for players in a program that finds itself in championship contention on a regular basis.

“I think their familiarity and the fact they’re poised and the fact they’re mature is really going to help us,” Tillman said. “It’s not like ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen next?’ We kind of know the routine. We know what to expect. It’s ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’”

Any conversation involving the Terps and Memorial Day eventually centers on the 42-year gap since the school’s last men’s lacrosse title. It isn’t for lack of opportunity; Maryland has dropped nine championship game in that span, including seven since 1995.

Many current players have endured disappointment on the season’s final day twice. Maryland was thumped 10-5 by a superior Denver team in 2015, then fell 14-13 in overtime against unseeded North Carolina last year.

“We can’t look at it as if we’re in a drought because that puts you in a different mindset,” defenseman Tim Muller said. “We kind of go out there looking at it like it’s just another game on the schedule and looking like it’s just another season for us.”

This one, though, will be remembered by both programs for a long time. The teams have played a pair of tight contests already this season (and Maryland took home a trophy the second time), setting up a rubber match that has the making of a classic.

“Every time we play them, we play up to our best ability and so do they,” Ohio State attackman Eric Fannell said. “Big Ten matchup again, grudge match, we couldn’t be more thrilled to play Maryland again, especially on the biggest stage of NCAA lacrosse.”

Added Buckeye attackman Tre Leclaire: “We expect the best from them, and they’re expecting the best from us.”

With these two teams, that constitutes business as usual.

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