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No. 4 Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. No. 13 Penn State preview

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The Terps look to build off a strong season-opening victory.

Courtesy: Maryland Athletics

The best thing about starting the season 1-0 is having the chance to go 2-0. And for Maryland men’s lacrosse, a visit to Penn State provides an ample opportunity to do so.

With the No. 4 Terps coming off a massive victory and No. 13 Penn State returning home after a jarring loss, the conditions for a Friday night win seem considerably favorable, that is, until you observe what the Nittany Lions have to offer on paper.

“This is what makes the conference so good, every week there are gonna be challenges,” head coach John Tillman said. “If you wanna play good lacrosse you gotta be excited about challenges like this and not run from them but run to them.”

Game two of Maryland’s season is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday at University Park and will air on Big Ten Network.

No. 13 Penn State Nittany Lions (0-1)

2020 Record: 5-2, 0-0 Big Ten

Head coach Jeff Tambroni is easily one of the sport’s most gifted leaders and talent evaluators. And after nearly a decade of gritty, disciplined coaching, Tambroni managed to mold Penn State into the nation’s best team. In 2019, his Nittany Lions won their first Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and advanced to their first-ever NCAA Semifinal. Penn State went 16-2 overall that season, defeating Johns Hopkins and Maryland enroute to a 5-0 Big Ten record.

The country’s top offense in 2019, Penn State led the nation in assists per game (10.83), man-up offense (.613), points per game (28.78), scoring margin (plus-6.89), scoring offense (17.94), and shot percentage (.434). And for his work in 2019, Tambroni was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Players to Know

Mac O’Keefe, senior attack, 6’0, 180, No. 3. After a decorated four-year career, O’Keefe returns to Penn State with his final year of eligibility and is looking to cement his legacy as one of the games greatest attackmen. O’Keefe’s accolades include three All-American honors, several of the highest-scoring seasons in Penn State history and a 2019 Big Ten tournament MVP. The fifth-year senior is currently on pace to break the nation’s all-time record for goals scored, held by Duke legend Justin Guterding (19 goals to go.)

“Mac is like a chip off the old block,” Tillman said. “He’s a guy that can really stretch you. He can not only shoot the ball but he’s really good finding teammates.”

Colby Kneese, senior goaltender, 5’10, 175, No. 34. Kneese, another fifth-year returner, has started every game for the Nittany Lions in his career and has built a strong reputation as one the nation’s highly esteemed goalies. He’s not quite the largest figure between the posts, but makes up for his lack of size with his quick reaction time. Kneese’s work as the last line of defense has granted him a solid save percentage (51.7%) and the third-most goals saved in Penn State history (575).

“He’s kinda created his own style. He’ll move a little bit more, he’ll bait you a little,” Tillman said. “I think he does a very good job in the clearing game he can throw the ball on a line, he sees the ball really well.”

TJ Malone, junior attack, 5’11, 180 lbs, No. 7. For the majority of his career, Malone has taken a backseat role to the tandem of O’Keefe and recently graduated attackman Grant Ament. Even so, on an offense brimming with talent, Malone still managed to score 30 times as a freshman on Penn State’s Big Ten championship squad. His 16 goals in last year’s truncated campaign were good for the team’s second-best mark. Now with a much bigger role as O’Keefe’s new running mate, Malone leads the attack with the most points for the season so far.

Strength

Experience. There probably isn’t anything that this particular group hasn’t seen. Penn State returned six seniors as graduate students, four of whom are former or current All-Americans. On the offense, O’Keefe returns alongside fifth-year attackman Dylan Foulds. And on the defense, graduate defenseman Nick Cardile rejoins Kneese. Penn State’s starting faceoff specialist, Gerard Arceri, is also a graduate student, two-time All-American and 2018 Big Ten Specialist of the Year.

“We know that it’s a tough matchup Friday night,” freshman Jack Koras said. “We can’t take [Penn State] lightly.”

Weakness

Scoring depth. After one game, Penn State demonstrated its inability to capture any sort of sustained explosiveness without O’Keefe. Rutgers held O’Keefe scoreless for a half on its way to an upset victory. And without O’Keefe, who went on to score just once in the contest, the Penn State offense was largely lifeless, allowing the Scarlet Knights to maintain a reasonable distance. The Nittany Lions are a team well known for their high scoring marks and overwhelming attack, so it’s likely Week One’s mishaps were a product of growing pains. Still, there’s a good chance their struggles continue if Maryland can muster another defensive performance similar to that of its season opener.

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Logan McNaney continue to produce at goal?

McNaney has the potential to become a mainstay for Maryland’s defense if the his teammates can reliably perform alongside him. This will be McNaney’s fourth career start and his first game against Penn State’s prolific attack. He’ll need all the defensive help he can get.

2. How much more can we see from Eric Malever?

The freshman attackman had several spurts of excellence during his short time on the field against Michigan. In his debut, the nation’s No. 7 recruit left the match with no goals and just one assist, which came on Daniel Maltz’s fifth and final goal of the contest. Malever might see more time the more comfortable he gets with the offense. And with how Penn State may be looking to defend Maryland’s attack, his production could be cruicial.

3. Can the defense hold for the entire night?

Saturday’s fourth-quarter collapse was painful to watch. The first three quarters of the game indicated significant improvements to Maryland’s long-inconsistent defense, but the final 15 minutes were awfully reminiscent of the Terps’ issues of the past. The talent is there, along with the mindset; now it’s simply a matter of translating their efforts to a full contest of lockdown defense.

“Having such a strong first performance through three quarters, it really builds your confidence. It was good to see,” junior defenseman John Geppert said. “Playing a full 60 minutes will be the next key for us.”