In a matchup of two of the top three teams in men’s college lacrosse, No. 3 Maryland will host No. 1 Penn State on Sunday night.
Like Maryland, the Nittany Lions sit with just one loss on the season, losing to Yale by a single goal back in February. Outside of that, they’ve looked unstoppable, averaging a Division I-best 18.38 goals per game and scoring over 20 goals in multiple games.
Maryland has dominated the all-time series against Penn State, winning all 36 of their previous meetings including a 14-13 victory in Happy Valley last season. It’ll be the beginning of Maryland’s Big Ten slate, with home matchups with Michigan and Johns Hopkins still on the horizon as well.
The game be played in primetime, beginning at 7 p.m. ET, and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-1)
2018 Record: 8-6, 2-3 Big Ten
Head coach Jeff Tambroni is in his eighth season leading the Nittany Lions into battle, going 75-51 in his tenure. After a bit of down year last season, Tambroni is looking to ride this stacked roster as far as it will take him with a shot at the program’s first national title in their sights.
Players to know
Junior attack Grant Ament (No. 1) has been the story of college lacrosse this season, eclipsing 50 points in just seven games with 10 goals and a Division I-best 46 assists. However, Ament’s status is still up in the air, as the phenom missed Penn State’s last game against Cleveland State with a lower-body injury and has been listed as questionable for Sunday’s matchup. Although Ament not playing would make Maryland’s job easier, the Terps hope he plays so they can play Penn State at their best.
“We’re hoping Ament plays,” sophomore midfielder Roman Puglise said. “You want every team at their best, so that’s kinda our mentality going into it.”
Junior attack Mac O’Keefe (No. 3) has been Ament’s running mate this season, often being on the receiving end on many of his 40-plus assists. O’Keefe has had an inversely great season compared to his counterpart, leading Division I in goals (36) and goals per game (4.50). With possibly two Tewaaraton finalists on the offensive end, Maryland’s defense will likely have its hands full trying to slow these two down.
Junior faceoff specialist Gerard Aceri (No. 40) helps set the tone for Penn State’s high-powered offense, ranking as one of the top faceoff specialists in the country. Aceri has won 115-of-186 face offs, putting him at 13th in the country in faceoff winning percentage, just seven spots behind Maryland’s Austin Henningsen.
Goal scoring. There’s not much that needs to be said about Penn State’s offense—it’s simply the best in Division I. Stopping down this Penn State attack is an impossible task; Maryland can only hope to slow the Nittany Lions down and try to match them offensively. Don’t be surprised if this one turns into a shootout.
Man-down defense. There’s not many weaknesses on this Penn State team, but the Terps may be able to take advantage on extra-man opportunities. Through eight games, the Nittany Lions have surrendered goals 37 percent of the time when playing with one fewer defender, good for 48th in Division I. Maryland saw some success with its man-up unit last week against North Carolina, and this could play a role on Sunday if the opportunities present themselves.
Three things to watch
1. The ground-ball battle. Ground balls often decide the outcome of most games, and Sunday night’s matchup will be no different. Maryland absolutely must win the 50-50 ground balls and limit Penn State’s offensive opportunities.
“The middle of the field is gonna be a game-changer,” Puglise said. “With the middle of the field, something we pride ourselves on heavily is that ground-ball game. It can change the game in a lot of ways. They love to push transition, so being able to limit that and being able to get some transition for ourselves, it’ll be huge in changing the dynamic of the game.”
2. Can Maryland start off conference play strong? Maryland went 4-1 last season in the Big Ten, with its only loss coming to Ohio State in College Park. Senior defenseman Curtis Corley noted earlier this week that Big Ten play is a different animal compared to non-conference play, and the Terps will have the opportunity to get it started on the right foot at home Sunday night.
3. Can Maryland stay undefeated at home? After going 6-2 at Maryland Stadium in 2018, the Terps have started this year 5-0 at home, winning those games by an average of 5.6 goals. Maryland has played its best lacrosse at home, with wins over Colgate, Villanova and North Carolina, but will definitely have its home prowess put to the test against Penn State.