The reigning national champions welcome the best offensive team in the country as the top two teams square off in one of the most anticipated games of the college lacrosse season.
There will be a clash of styles between the No. 2-ranked Maryland Terrapins’ (5-0) disciplined defense and the No. 1 Albany Great Danes’ (4-0) free-flowing offense. They’ll play Saturday at noon at Capital One Field in a rematch of last season’s NCAA quarterfinals.
“Year by year it’s a different team, but some of their upperclassmen might have a chip on their shoulders because we beat them last year,” junior defenseman Curtis Corley said. “They’ve been talked up to have one of the best offenses in the country right now so I think that’ll be a challenge for us defensively.”
Maryland defeated Albany twice last season, including a thrilling 12-11 victory in Albany. Yet, the addition of the No. 1 recruit Tehoka Nanticoke along with a more established defense has Albany soaring early on this season.
Albany has had the best offense for five out of the last six seasons, while also having the nation’s points leader in each of those seasons. Connor Fields led the nation with 117 points last season – good for the fourth-highest scoring output of all time.
Fields is on pace to break the NCAA’s all-time points record set by former Great Dane Lyle Thompson in 2014. Fields, who averages 7.5 points per game thus far, needs 92 more points to break Thompson’s scoring record.
Nanticoke has made his presence felt starting with a five-goal debut in the blowout 15-3 against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The Iroquois National player is tied for second in the nation with 3.5 goals per game.
“I just think everybody, with what Albany has done this year and what they’ve done in recent years,” head coach John Tillman said. “There’s excitement just because everyone knows how good they are and how big of a challenge this is going to be.”
Maryland has shown some offensive firepower of its own through its first five wins. Senior midfielder Connor Kelly leads the way with 29 points while sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt leads the team with 15 goals. Both players were named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List.
Kelly was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after setting a conference record for most points in a single game with 10. His seven assists last Saturday are just four less than his total output of last season, and he played a part in every single goal against the Irish.
“Having Connor Kelly out there is really, really good,” Corley said. “But it’s not just him, it’s our entire offense out there. Having Logan Wisnauskas, Jared Bernhardt, Anthony DeMaio and all those guys out there managing the game perfectly like a push and pull, yin and yang compliments the defense well.”
Still, Albany has been able to outscore its first four opponents of the season through Fields and Nanticoke’s offensive production. Before dismantling UMass 19-8 on Tuesday, Albany escaped Cornell’s upset bid behind faceoff specialist TD Ierlan’s perfect day from the X. Ierlan won all 24 faceoffs in the game, one shy of the NCAA record.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a game and you look at the stats and the team is almost 91 percent at the faceoff X after three games,” Tillman said before Albany’s midweek game. “I just haven’t seen that before.”
While Albany as a whole has only won 78 percent of their faceoffs, Big Ten Freshman of the Week Justin Shockey won 16-of-22 faceoffs in the 12-10 win against Notre Dame.
“Tyler Barbarich has done a really great job with Justin [Shockey],” Tillman said. “Each week he continues to get better and better and more comfortable.”
In a game that exudes offensive talent, each team’s defensive outputs may ultimately decide the result. Senior goalies JD Colarusso and Dan Morris are in for tough days in the office with such firepower on both offenses. Colarusso’s 5.14 goals against average edges out Morris’ 8.17.
“You have to be very good with your on-ball defensive discipline,” Tillman said. “But you have to be good off-ball discipline because if you focus too much on the knowns whether it’s Tehoka or Fields or McClancy, then the other guys will [score].”
However, such defensive discipline is easier said than done when matched up against Nanticoke, however. When covering the talented freshman attackman on-ball, he has the skill set to score goals like this famous goal from a scrimmage last fall.
Yet, if off-ball when defending Albany, Nanticoke has the skill set to make flashy assists to beware of.
Tehoka with the bounce pass assist to Fields 😱
— Inside Lacrosse (@Inside_Lacrosse) March 6, 2018
While it’s unclear who will take the Nanticoke defensive assignment and who will get Fields, it will surely take a collective team effort to stop the pair when the teams vie for the nation’s top spot on the Big Ten Network.
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