Now that No. 3 Maryland men’s lacrosse has successfully marched through the Big Ten with relative ease, it’ll have to do it again. Only this time, the competition will be more frequently on the road, against opposition hungry to supplant the Terps for the first time this season.
The second half of the season begins at Piscataway, New Jersey. And with No. 5 Rutgers being the only team within the Big Ten that is close enough to usurp or share the number one spot in the conference, this game carries plenty of implications beyond bragging rights. It’ll be a game that might be for sole possession of the Big Ten regular season championship.
Still, the Terps are focused on the bigger picture: improve, beat the next opponent, move on to the next one, repeat.
“Every game is really important right now,” defender John Geppert said. “You know, kind of setting the tone, week in and week out that we’re going to consistently come ready and prepared to give you our best each and every weekend.”
Maryland and Rutgers are set to face off Sunday at noon, with the game being televised on ESPNU.
What happened last time
In a league that Maryland has spent its season mostly toying with, Rutgers stands as the closest thing to the Terps equal. In the two sides' last meeting, the Scarlet Knights put on a much better performance than Johns Hopkins or Penn State and totaled the most points (12) that Maryland had faced all season.
The game began as a close, back-and-forth affair and progressed to a second-half onslaught by the Terps. In the third, Maryland dominated with defense. The Terps forced four turnovers, allowed just three shots on goal and conceded just one Rutgers goal.
In the fourth, the Terps noticeably improved in all facets. In the faceoff, Justin Shockey seemed unbeatable early in the period, allowing Maryland to ring off two unanswered in just a minute and a half. It was a strong start the offense would follow up with a 6-2 run in the final 13 minutes. The defense faltered slightly in the fourth but the offenses significantly improved efficiency made up for the decline. Ultimately, the defense allowed just three points in the final half after conceding nine in the first 30 minutes.
“It’s a big sigh of relief I got good defense in front of me,” goalie Logan McNaney said, “and I cherish it every day. They do a great job guarding their guys and when we need to slide we slide, when we don’t, we don’t need to.”
Rutgers’ Connor Kirst was held without a goal while Adam Charalambides did much of the heavy lifting on the attack with four goals. On the home side, attacker Jared Bernhardt was the tone-setter throughout the contest for Maryland, netting timely goals to start runs, take leads and vitalize the offense.
What’s happened since
Since Maryland’s first-half nailbiter against Rutgers, the two sides have only played one game. They both won rather convincingly in spite of low scoring marks and slow starts and will be looking to improve from their prior wins. Fortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they get their second shot at Maryland with home-field advantage. And with just two road games against relatively weak opposition, Maryland has yet to find much of a groove away from home.
In order to last and prompt somewhat similar results to their last meeting, Maryland will have to make dramatic improvements from its Ohio State performance to hold up against the Scarlet Knights. With the recency of week four’s contest, Rutgers will have an added incentive to topple Maryland.
“[Rutgers’] DNA I don’t think can change,” head coach John Tillman said, “but I think you can add some little wrinkles and, maybe some things you kept in your back pocket that you’ve been doing all along and just wanted to save it until the second time around. That’s where we’re just gonna have to make good in-game adjustments.
Three things to watch
1. Will Jared Bernhardt surpass Matt Rambo? After week five’s three-goal outing, Bernhardt needs just five goals to tie Matt Rambo’s all-time goal mark at 155. He also needs just 37 points to tie his former running mate as the program’s all-time leader in the statistic. Potentially, his services at such a capacity may be necessary to beat Rutgers, but with how Bernhardt had his way with the Scarlet Knights defense, it’s possible they’ll be looking to slow him down significantly.
2. How will the Terps fare in the faceoff? The faceoff is where Maryland suffers the most deficiencies. Shockey had possibly his worst outing against Ohio State and his lack of consistency at FOGO only creates more questions for Maryland’s ability to get anything going in that area. Without a solid, consistent faceoff specialist, Maryland will continue to lose out on possessions that could make games easier and more balanced.
“It’s a little bit of a head scratcher,” Tillman said “[Shockey has] had some moments where he’s played well. So as an optimist, you kind of look and go; ‘Alright we know that we can be good there, but we just haven’t been consistently good there.’ So, you start looking at is it what we’re teaching? Is it the style? Is it the matchup? Is it the way we’re lining up the wings? Do we need to maybe go to somebody else a little bit earlier?
3. What have the Terps learned from the first matchup? Even though they won, the Terps have plenty to take from their first meeting with Rutgers. Obviously, a strong start would be ideal to avoid a lopsided score. But with how Bernhardt took over the last match, with six goals and an assist, the Scarlet Knights may be looking to focus more on him to stunt Maryland’s attack.
To preempt this gameplan, the Terps should look for more production from other scorers and look to initiate a concerted effort to break down Rutgers’ defense. Of course, as always, the defense will need to bring pressure as well and look to produce another late-game performance similar to week four.
“I think the most important thing for the rest of the year will be consistency,” Geppert said, “if we can be consistent, week in and week out, you know, I think the sky’s the limits for this group. Consistency is the one thing I think we’re gonna focus on the rest of the year.”