PHILADELPHIA — Top-seeded against unseeded.
Rarely does the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse championship game showcase such a matchup. But that will be the case Monday when No. 1 Maryland, two years into its Big Ten membership, faces long-time ACC rival North Carolina at 1 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field.
It is the Terrapins’ fifth Final Four in the last six years, but they have not won a title since 1975. They are well aware of the recent frustrations, including a 10-5 loss to Denver last year.
“I think our kids are mature enough to realize you don’t come to Maryland to play in the championship game. You come to win the championship,” coach John Tillman said after Saturday’s riveting 15-14 overtime victory over Brown. “Why not? Really? Why not us?”
To end that championship drought, the Terrapins will have to contend with a team that may have barely gotten an NCAA Tournament bid at 8-6 — “We were a little bit nervous about the selection show,” North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said — but now is as hot as the weekend weather.
The Tar Heels hadn’t been to the Final Four since 1993 and haven’t won a title since 1991, but they sure looked like a worthy tournament team after ending Loyola’s 10-game winning streak with an impressive 18-13 victory on Saturday. Chris Cloutier scored an NCAA Tournament-record nine goals and UNC streaked to a 9-2 first-quarter lead.
“There’s no pressure on these guys,” Breschi said of a team that began 3-3. “It was a relief that we got in and now we have an opportunity to just let our hair down and play. The stars are aligned at the right time.”
In addition to Cloutier, North Carolina’s stars include Steve Pontrello and Luke Goldstock on attack and faceoff whiz Stephen Kelly.
Maryland, which won the regular-season meeting, 11-8, seems to have been at peak efficiency all season but needed every ounce of its experience — 10 players with at least 50 collegiate games — and talent to outlast Brown.
Though the Terps have hung their helmets on a fourth-ranked defense (eight goals per game) led by All-American Matt Dunn and Long Islanders Tim Muller (Mineola, Chaminade) and Greg Danseglio (Islip Terrace, St. Anthony’s), the offense is potent, too.
Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock, who teamed up for the game-winner against Brown, are a dangerous 1-2 punch at attack.
“Our team is capable of playing so many different styles because we’re so deep this year,” said Rambo, who grew up in nearby Glenside, Pennsylvania. “Our defense can push. We can hold it. We can slow it down, we can speed it up. We’re a balanced team.”
Brown, the nation’s highest-scoring team, forced Maryland to speed it up and the Terps won in a photo finish. North Carolina prefers the fast pace, too, but isn’t likely to explode from the starting blocks the way it did against Loyola.
“They are the No. 1 team in the country for a reason,” Breschi said. “They have talent at midfield. Their attack is special. Defensively they’re sound.
“We’re just the unseeded group that’s here crashing the party.”
NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Final
Monday, 1 p.m., ESPN2
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
No. 1 Maryland (17-2) vs. North Carolina (11-6)
History: Maryland lost in the championship game last year to Denver, and also in 2011 and 2012. The Terps’ last NCAA title was in 1975. North Carolina’s last title-game appearance was in 1993 and the Tar Heels’ last championship was in 1991.
L.I. links: Among the starters on Maryland’s fourth-ranked defense are D Tim Muller (Mineola, Chaminade) and LSM Greg Danseglio (Islip Terrace, St. Anthony’s). For North Carolina, Brian Balkam (St. James, Smithtown East) is the starting goalie. Maryland’s Tim Rotanz (Shoreham-Wading River), who scored two key goals vs. Brown in the semifinal, and UNC’s Brian Cannon (Northport), who scored the first goal vs. Loyola, are key second-line midfielders.