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Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals preview: Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Rutgers

The Terps will face Johns Hopkins in the semifinals if they advance.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

After an up-and-down regular season, No. 3-seed Maryland men’s lacrosse is set to play in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals for the first time since joining the conference in 2015.

The Terps held the top in each of the last two Big Ten Tournaments, but last week’s loss to Johns Hopkins dropped Maryland from the top spot its become familiar with.

“The Rivalry” was a battle throughout the entire game with a total of seven lead changes, but a late-game turnover by sophomore attackman Zach Whittier secured the win for the Blue Jays, 12-11.

The loss pushed Maryland down two spots in the Big Ten standings, while Penn State took over the No. 1 seed. Johns Hopkins secured the No. 2 seed.

As the third seed in the conference, the Terps will square off against No. 6-seed Rutgers this Saturday in College Park. The game will begin at 8 p.m. and air on Big Ten Network.

What happened last time

Maryland and Rutgers last met on April 16. Both teams were ranked in Inside Lacrosse’s Media Poll, with the Terps slotted at No. 4 and Rutgers at No. 9.

Both teams were sloppy to open up the game, combining for four turnovers and one missed shot in the first six minutes.

However, the Terps got rolling as the first quarter drew on. Senior attackman Ryan Siracusa made the most of a rare opportunity, scoring his fourth goal of the season, and then junior midfielder Jack Koras, Whittier and senior attackman Daniel Maltz each tacked on a goal.

After falling into an early 5-0 deficit, the Scarlet Knights needed a response.

Junior midfielder Jack Aimone and senior attackman Brain Cameron strung together consecutive goals, but the Terps matched each of Rutgers’ four goals in the second quarter and maintained a four-goal lead heading into halftime.

The third quarter was yet again dominated by Maryland. Freshman Braden Erksa, junior Daniel Kelly and sophomore Eric Spanos each canned a shot, dwarfing Aimone’s lone goal.

Holding a six-goal advantage, the Terps played conservatively to end the game, which nearly proved costly. Their lack of aggression resulted in eight turnovers and just two shot attempts in the fourth quarter. Luckily for Maryland, Rutgers’ three unanswered goals weren’t enough, and the Terps held on to defeat the Scarlet Knights, 11-8.

What’s happened since

With the Big Ten regular-season title on the line, Maryland and Johns Hopkins — one of the most storied rivalries in college lacrosse — met for the first time this season.

Each team delivered blow after blow, with Erksa and Maltz carrying much of the offensive load for the Terps, combining for eight goals and one assist.

It was not until the fourth quarter when either team gained more than a one-goal lead, but junior attackman Russell Melendez’s second goal of the game was the dagger Johns Hopkins needed to come out on top.

Rutgers, on the other hand, suffered a blowout loss to Penn State. The game played out similarly to its loss to Maryland — this time without the fourth-quarter renaissance.

The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first quarter, and then Rutgers countered with a 3-0 run of its own. However, this is the closest the Scarlet Knights would get to victory, as they scored just two goals throughout the rest of the game.

Coming off its worst loss of the season, Rutgers will need a major bounce-back performance to knock off the reigning national champions.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland rediscover its postseason magic? Last year, the Terps were invincible. There was no question how they would perform in the postseason after scorching through their regular-season opponents. But this year, Maryland has been very inconsistent. Whether it was losing to then-unranked Michigan or defeating then-No. 1 Virginia, it’s been hard to pinpoint where Maryland ranks among the nation’s best. However, with the season on the line each and every game, we will discover what the Terps are truly made of.

“At this point it’s win or go home,” graduate long-stick midfielder John Geppert said. “It’s really just about playing disciplined lacrosse at this point.

2. Can Erksa keep his hot stick? As a freshman, Erksa has emerged as Maryland’s top option on the offensive end of the field. He leads the team with 32 points and is only getting better. He tallied nine goals and six assists over the last four games and became the first Terp to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Does the rookie have what it takes to carry the Terps through the postseason?

“They’re not freshmen anymore. You’ve played 12 regular-season games,” head coach John Tillman said. “You shouldn’t be scared. You shouldn’t be nervous.”

3. How will each team adjust? The first matchup between Maryland and Rutgers left a lot to be desired by both teams. While the Terps were dominant in the first three quarters, they were sloppy in the final frame. Fortunately for them, Rutgers couldn’t get anything going when it mattered. Each team will learn from the previous matchup, but which squad will make better adjustments?