No. 4 Maryland men’s lacrosse travels to New Brunswick, New Jersey for a top-10 matchup against No. 9 Rutgers on Sunday.
The Terps are fresh off of their second overtime win of the season, battling back from a five-goal deficit to down No. 18 Ohio State.
Sophomore attackmen Eric Spanos and Zach Whittier helped cut the Buckeyes’ lead to three heading into the fourth quarter, and then Maryland’s defense took over. Ohio State missed its last six shots and committed three turnovers, and Maryland junior attackman Daniel Kelly tallied two of the three goals necessary to force overtime.
The Buckeyes’ offense did not touch the ball in overtime, as senior Luke Wierman won the opening faceoff and freshman attackman Braden Erksa capped off the impressive comeback with an unassisted goal.
The Terps played their worst first half of the year against Ohio State, but four unanswered goals propelled them to victory.
Now, the Terps’ focus moves to Rutgers, who poses one more obstacle standing between them and the Big Ten regular-season crown. Sunday’s game will begin at 7 p.m. and air on Big Ten Network.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
2022 record: 15-4, 4-1 Big Ten
Head coach Brian Brecht is in his 12th year at the helm of Rutgers’ men’s lacrosse program. He’s achieved great success in that time, leading the Scarlet Knights to a Final Four appearance in 2022 and a NCAA quarterfinals appearance in 2021. Brecht has finished with at least a .500 winning percentage in six of his 11 years with Rutgers, and will make it seven this season. Brecht has yet to defeat the Terps in his career, however, losing all 11 matchups.
Players to watch
Shane Knobloch, junior midfielder, No. 27 — Rutgers produced three All-Big Ten first-team members last year, and the headliner was Knobloch, who tallied 32 goals and 16 assists. He has assumed the role of the Scarlet Knights’ primary playmaker this year, leading the team in assists (16) while committing just 15 turnovers. Knobloch has 16 goals on a .235 shooting percentage thus far, but his playmaking makes him Rutgers’ biggest threat.
Ethan Rall, senior long-stick midfielder, No. 29 — Rall was the Scarlet Knights’ only unanimous All-Big Ten first-team selection last year, and for good reason. He ranked first in the Big Ten in caused turnovers (31), also scoring two goals and dishing out four assists. Rall is having another exceptional year on the defensive end in 2023, recording 38 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers.
Ross Scott, senior attackman, No. 5 — Scott had a historic season in 2022, in which he tied Rutgers’ single-season goal record (50) and posted the second-most points in a single season (75). This year, he has tallied 24 goals on an 0.270 shot percentage and eight assists through the first 11 games. While Scott is not having his best season, he is still Rutgers’ most dangerous scorer.
Turnovers. Despite their fast pace of play, the Scarlet Knights do not waste possessions. Rutgers leads the nation in turnovers per game (11.82), an area where the Terps have struggled to find consistency. Led by Knobloch and senior attackman Brain Cameron, the Scarlet Knights will not give Maryland many second chances.
Shot efficiency. There are not very many glaring weaknesses for the No. 9 team in the country, but Rutgers’ shooting percentage could use improvement. The Scarlet Knights rank 45th in the country in shooting percentage (0.283), which is just barely higher than Maryland’s 0.281. Much of this has to do with their top two shot-takers, Scott and Knobloch, shooting a combined 11.6 percentage points below their averages last year.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland’s youngsters take over? A few underclassmen have stepped up as of late, foreshadowing the future of Maryland’s men’s lacrosse program. Erksa had a true breakout game two weeks ago against No. 15 Michigan, when he scored three goals and tacked on one assist, and then followed that performance up with the game-winning goal against Ohio State. Spanos and Whittier also contributed against the Buckeyes, each tallying two goals. If Erksa, Spanos and Whittier continue to improve, Maryland’s offense will be extremely dangerous come May.
“I think part of it’s the opportunity and part of it’s confidence growing,” head coach John Tillman said. “As the season goes on, you’re hoping guys develop … you need more than one midfield to really go where you want to go.”
2. A battle of defensive juggernauts. Rutgers and Maryland have two of the best defenses in the country, each ranking top-12 in scoring defense. Senior defensemen Bobby Russo and Brett Makar each head their respective defensive units and are usually assigned with guarding the opponent’s best offensive player. With each offense facing inconsistencies, this could be a grind-it-out type of game.
3. Can the Terps continue their strong fourth-quarter play? Maryland entered the fourth quarter against Ohio State down three, but still managed to come out on top. The Terps scored three crucial goals in the fourth, and then ended the game in the first possession of overtime. They only committed two turnovers in the fourth and won three of the final four faceoffs. While Maryland needs to get off to a better start against Rutgers, the Terps played their best lacrosse of the season in the final 16 minutes of last week’s game.
“There are some things that we did do well, but we also want to make sure that we’re not ever satisfied,” Tillman said. “We got to try to be the team that played the second half.”