After three quarters of play, No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse was in the midst of one of its toughest battles all season long. The Terps led by one, but Ohio State had answered every scoring run with one of its own.
It took 45 minutes, but Maryland finally began pulling away from Ohio State in the early portion of the fourth quarter. The connection between graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville and fifth-year midfielder Anthony DeMaio duo showed itself, as Donville passed to DeMaio before he converted for his second goal of the game. Fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas scored his fifth goal of the game 30 seconds later before notching an assist on a goal by sophomore attacker Eric Malever.
The assists kept coming for Donville, as he fed graduate attacker Keegan Khan after an amazing dodge. Then, junior midfielder Jack Brennan penned his name on the stat sheet with an unassisted strike a minute later, putting Maryland up six with under eight minutes to go.
“[Junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman and the wings] did a better and better job, and that gave us more opportunities,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “We got more momentum, we kept getting the ball back and the guys got a lot of confidence and started finishing their shots.”
The top-ranked Terps used that fourth quarter burst to defeat No. 9 Ohio State 19-12, clinching their second straight Big Ten regular-season championship and locking up the top seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.
“To be able to accomplish one of our goals, certainly not the only one, but to be Big Ten champs means a lot,” Tillman said. “I think it means a lot to the guys in the locker room. It does mean a lot to the school, our [alumni] and everybody around here.”
Maryland, who finished its regular season home slate with a perfect 6-0 record, improved to 11-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten with one more regular season game remaining.
Ohio State fell to 8-4 on the season and 2-2 in the Big Ten.
Both teams traded blows during the first quarter of action. Maryland jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead after goals by Malever and graduate midfielder Roman Puglise, aided by three straight faceoff wins by junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman.
But, the Buckeyes punched back with two goals of their own. Senior attackers Scott White and Jason Knox scored with 12:15 and 11:15 left in the first quarter, respectively, and tied the game at two.
DeMaio put the Terps back on top, ripping a shot from his knees into the top corner past Ohio State senior goalie Skylar Wahlund.
The Buckeyes ended the quarter on a 3-0 run, however, leading 5-3 after 15 minutes of play. Senior attacker Jack Myers tied the game at three by forcing his way through three Terp defensemen and beating Maryland junior goalie Logan McNaney.
Then, goals by senior attacker Jackson Reid and Knox handed the Terps a two-goal deficit entering the second quarter.
Ohio State’s offense kept rolling to start the second quarter. Senior midfielder Johnny Wiseman scored the quarter’s first goal, and then senior attacker Colby Smith beat McNaney off an assist from Myers to extend the Buckeyes’ lead to four.
For the first time all season, Maryland truly had its back against the wall.
“I don’t think Coach [Tillman] said a word,” Puglise said about the team’s huddle during their biggest deficit all season. “The guys just came in, and we reset. It was about chipping away, one at a time. Getting a ground ball that leads to a clear, that leads to a good possession, that leads to a goal and doing it over again.”
After a scoreless drought that lasted over 15 minutes, Ohio State’s 5-0 run ended at the hands of Maryland’s top scorer, Logan Wisnauskas. The program’s new career points leader found the back of the net twice in fewer than two minutes after assists by Donville and Malever.
The Terps’ comeback effort continued, with DeMaio finding Donville to cut the Ohio State lead to just one with 4:11 remaining in the first half.
Then, sophomore midfielder Jack Koras raced toward the net and beat Wahlund for a game-tying goal with 2:03 left in the second quarter, evening the score at seven heading into the halftime break.
“We needed a test and I’m super proud of the guys, super proud of our leadership, super proud of how everyone just stuck together [and] believed in each other,” Puglise said of his team coming from behind.
The second half started just as the first half did with back-and-forth play.
Wisnauskas scored his third goal of the game just 33 seconds in, which gave Maryland its first lead since early in the first quarter.
His hat trick marked the 50th consecutive game that a Maryland player registered at least three goals in a game.
Then, Ohio State answered with two straight goals from Smith and freshman midfielder Ari Allen to retake a 9-8 lead.
The Terps responded with a goal featuring two defensive-minded players. Senior defenseman Brett Makar was running in transition when he dished it to Puglise, who skillfully dodged his defender and scored to tie the game at nine with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
“I think I can speak on behalf of everyone on our team, when you see Roman Puglise coming down the field, trailing, you’ve got to get that man the ball,” Makar said.
“That’s just backyard lacrosse,” Puglise added. “I’m grateful for the coaches and the guys that have the trust in me to do that.”
Just 13 seconds later, Myers scored his second goal of the game to put the Buckeyes back on top, but three straight goals from the Terps reclaimed the lead. Wisnauskas scored for the fourth time, and two goals in a five-second span by Khan and Wierman put Maryland up, 12-10.
The last goal of the third quarter, however, belonged to Ohio State. Smith scored again after an assist from Myers to cut the Maryland lead to one heading into the final quarter of play.
After an Ohio State shot ricocheted off the post, Reid collected the rebound and beat McNaney for a goal that ended Maryland’s 5-0 scoring run.
Maryland responded to Reid’s goal with two more of its own, coming courtesy of senior midfielder Kyle Long and another by Brennan. Brennan’s goal made it 19-12, which proved to be the game’s final score.
With only one contest left in the regular season, all eyes are now on next Saturday’s rivalry showdown in Baltimore against Johns Hopkins.
“I love the experience [of winning a conference championship] and the trust I have in this group to enjoy the moment, celebrate and get back to work on Monday for a great Hopkins team,” Makar said. “Just onto the next one. That’s been the message all year.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland got the test it needed. While blowing out opponents is great, there’s no team, no matter how talented, that is going to breeze past everyone over the course of an entire season. Until Saturday, no opponent had pushed Maryland quite like Ohio State did. The Terps needed a wake-up call before postseason play, as it’s easier to learn from mistakes than successes. It’s infinitely better to learn from blemishes during a regular season game in mid-April than an NCAA tournament game in May.
“I kind of find it exciting when we don’t play as great as we want and we’re still able to come out with the win,” Makar said. “Just shows the fight and resiliency of this group.”
2. Ground balls were a war all game long. It seemed like every time a loose ball fell, multiple players from both teams were battling to collect it. That physicality has been a staple of Maryland’s play all season long. There’s no doubt that the Buckeyes gave it their all when it came to 50/50 balls, but at the end of the day Maryland’s talent shone through. The Terps ended the game with a 32-23 ground ball advantage.
3. No failed clears. Both Maryland and Ohio State finished the game with a 100% success rate on clears; Maryland went 16-for-16 and Ohio State went 19-for-19. While there were a combined 23 turnovers, neither team faltered when it came to getting the ball to the offensive end after a stop. The absence of failed clears showcases how physical each team was on defense and the pressure they put on each other.