CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Virginia had an idea of how it would attack the Terrapins men’s lacrosse team in key moments of Friday night’s ACC tournament semifinal. When there was a big possession, the Cavaliers turned to attackmen Mark Cockerton and Matt White to make a crucial play.
The duo delivered. Cockerton and White combined for seven goals and helped Virginia cruise to a 13-6 win over the No. 1-seed Terps.
The Terps, meanwhile, didn’t know whom to turn to in those situations. They had six players who have tallied at least 15 goals this season but none who had notched more than 20. Virginia, however, boasted two dominating presences in Cockerton and White, who have 49 and 29 goals, respectively, this season.
So as the Cavaliers pieced together a 7-0 run in the second half Friday, the Terps didn’t have a clear-cut response from a playmaker. The team would move the ball efficiently, but it didn’t have a player aggressive enough to make the critical play and halt Virginia’s spurt.
As a result, the Terps suffered their second loss in three games and scored fewer than 10 goals for the fifth time in six games.
Opposing coaches and pundits lauded the Terps’ exceptionally balanced attack earlier in the season. But with their recent struggles, the praise has faded.
Now it seems coach John Tillman is in search of a go-to scorer.
“We talked a little bit in the locker room about kind of creating our own identity,” Tillman said, “and cleaning some things up.”
The Terps certainly didn’t know where to turn Friday. Attackman Owen Blye, who leads the Terps with 20 goals, notched a hat trick. One of his goals came on an extra-man opportunity, and another came in the game’s last 30 seconds — one of Blye’s few touches during the fourth quarter — after the result had long been determined.
During the Cavaliers’ string of seven straight goals, Blye was ineffective and rarely penetrated the Virginia defense. And no other Terp, such as midfielders John Haus or Mike Chanenchuk, stepped up in that span, either. No other player tallied more than one goal Friday.
The lack of offense has left the Terps rather confused. They had an abundance of offensive opportunities through the first half of the season, but they couldn’t find a secondary option behind Blye in one of their biggest games.
“I don’t think there can be one single answer to that,” Blye said. “It’s a culmination of a lot of things.”
The Terps’ inability to clearly define an offensive identity may stem from their early success, Tillman said. The team averaged 16 goals per game during a blistering 6-0 start and won each game comfortably.
So when the Terps first began to struggle, they shrugged off the issues. They were a balanced offense and thought they just needed to refocus. But as the team’s downward trend steepens, Tillman realized that its stagnant performances aren’t anomalies.
“With us early in the season, we were putting up some big numbers,” Tillman said. “It was a little easier than we expected, so that’s something that we’ve had to adjust to.”
Scoring was certainly hard to come by for the Terps on Friday night in a humbling loss to a Cavaliers team that hadn’t beaten a top-20 opponent all year. It was characteristic of the season’s second-half struggles.
The Terps have been in this position before, though. They struggled down the stretch last season, losing two of their final four games before entering the NCAA tournament.
But once they reached national postseason play, a re-energized Terps squad won three straight games and reached the championship game. One of the keys to that turnaround, Tillman said, was that the team learned where to turn in vital moments.
So now the Terps are hoping to figure out whom to rely on or what plays to call this season. And after a pattern of late-season swoons, they’re hoping to find a new identity.
“It’s where we’ve been the last couple years, where we’ve had a couple losses late,” Tillman said. “We’ve got to look at some things and maybe redefine who we are.”