ALBANY, N.Y. — Scott Marr again is one step from accomplishing an elusive goal as head lacrosse coach at the University at Albany — taking the Great Danes to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Will the fourth time be the charm?
"We have another opportunity. This group just feels good. It feels like we can make that next step," Marr said. "It would be unbelievable if we could accomplish it."
The quarterfinals get underway Saturday at Hempstead on New York's Long Island, with third-seeded Ohio State (14-4) against unseeded Duke (13-4) and fourth seed Notre Dame (9-5) against No. 5 Denver (12-3).
On Sunday, in Newark, Delaware, eighth-seeded Albany (15-2), which knocked off defending national champion North Carolina 15-12 in the first round, meets top-seeded Maryland (13-3), and unseeded Towson (11-4) plays second-seeded Syracuse (13-2).
Judging by Marr's reaction when asked about returning to his coaching roots for the big game, it's going to be a weekend like no other for the affable coach. His first job out of college was as an assistant at the University of Delaware, it's where he met his wife Traci, and he served as an assistant at Maryland for six years.
Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw, the guy who hired Marr 25 years ago, is serving as host for the Great Danes.
"I think about it all the time," Marr said. "I'm going back to where I first started. It'll definitely be emotional for me to take the field."
While only four of Albany's victories have come against teams with winning records, the America East Conference champions have a huge asset in freshman faceoff specialist TD Ierlan, and his skill was on full display against the Tar Heels.
Ierlan, who's won 72.5 per cent of his draws to rank second nationally, won all 10 faceoffs against senior Stephen Kelly in the first quarter as Albany raced to a stunning 14-3 halftime lead in a steady rain, then withstood a rousing second-half rally by the Tar Heels.
The Terps beat the Great Danes 12-11 in mid-April at Albany's Casey Stadium. After falling behind 3-0, Maryland turned up the pressure in the final two minutes in each of the first three quarters, netting six goals to get back in it.
"Those are back-breakers," Marr said.
Other things to know about the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals:
VETERAN TERPS: Maryland's seniors have won a program-record 58 games and are seeking their fourth trip to the Final Four. Senior attackman Matt Rambo recorded a career-high eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in a 13-10 victory over Bryant in the first round and is Maryland's all-time leading scorer with 245 points. Rambo is tied with Matt Hahn for second in school history at 149 goals, four behind leader Joe Walters.
ORANGE HABITS: Syracuse is 9-2 in one-goal games, including 11-10 over Yale in the first round. The Bulldogs limited Syracuse to just four wins in 22 faceoffs, outshot them 42-29, and still lost because the Orange defence rose to the occasion. It was perfect on 15 clears, did not allow a goal while down a man three times, and goalie Evan Malloy notched 15 saves.
"To lose that many (faceoffs), sure it's a concern," said Orange coach John Desko, who has been part of 500 wins at Syracuse as a player and coach. "You get anxious, especially in a one-goal game."
A year ago Towson upset second-seeded Denver to advance to the quarterfinals and last week upset No. 7 Penn State 12-8, but since 1973 the Tigers have lost nine straight times to Syracuse.
DENVER'S X FACTOR: The Pioneers are 12-0 when scoring 10 or more goals and 0-3 when scoring nine or fewer, and a big key to their success is 5-foot-10, 220-pound faceoff ace Trevor Baptiste. He won 23 of 27 faceoffs to lead Denver to a 17-10 win over Air Force in the first round.
DUKE ROLLING: Despite finishing the season on a 10-2 run, the Blue Devils were one of the last teams picked for the tournament. They responded by hammering No. 6 seed Johns Hopkins 19-6 in the first round behind four goals and six assists from Justin Guterding. It was Duke's first win in the tournament since its last title in 2014, and perhaps a good omen. The previous two times the Blue Devils defeated the Blue Jays in the tournament they won the national championship.
BUCKEYE DREAM: Ohio State had playoff wins in 2013 and 2015, but the Buckeyes have never made the Final Four. Faceoff ace Jake Withers gives them an excellent chance. He's winning 66.6 per cent at the X, third nationally.
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