Maryland’s preparation for Thursday night’s matchup against visiting Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten men’s lacrosse tournament semifinals has included a close film study of the first meeting, held just 12 days ago. It has included a reintroduction to the schemes and personnel of the Buckeyes, who dominated the Terps for 55 minutes before crumbling down the stretch in a 10-9 loss.
But for as detailed and focused as that review of Ohio State will be leading up to the matchup at Byrd Stadium, the sequel will likely be determined by the team that can execute the “little things,” as Maryland Coach John Tillman put it. The team that can win more faceoffs and groundballs – the areas of the game that undercut Maryland in the second half of a 15-12 loss to Johns Hopkins last week – will likely have the upper hand in advancing to Saturday’s league final.
“It’s funny with the second game, I think everyone goes back and watches the last game. That was, in a lot of ways, a weird game,” Tillman said. “For the majority of that game, they really controlled it.”
The winner will take on the victor of Thursday’s other semifinal between top-seeded Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten) and Penn State (5-8, 2-3). But before sixth-ranked Maryland (12-2, 4-1) can even begin to think about a potential rematch with its most heated rival, it must take care of the No. 14 Buckeyes (10-5, 3-2), who established themselves as a threat this spring, which included a win was over Hopkins on April 5). Ohio State has lost two straight — the overtime heartbreaker to Maryland and a 17-10 setback against Rutgers in its regular season finale last week.
The Buckeyes have two of the Big Ten’s most productive offensive players in senior midfielder Jesse King (35 goals, 23 assists) and junior attackman Carter Brown (28 goals, 15 assists). Senior Chris May, a former star at Gonzaga College High School, has won 62.2 percent of his faceoffs this year and has grabbed a team-high 116 groundballs. King had four goals and two assists in the first meeting against Maryland.
“He’s terrific,” Tillman said of King. “Chris May, facing off at 63 percent, is a really good guy, a really good player … they’re strong up the middle. Defensively they’re one of the top teams in the country. We definitely need to clean up some things and improve and play really well, to play the way we want to play.”
Maryland, which has given up 42 goals in its last four games, still has the country’s top scoring defense (6.43). It is the only team in the country that is allowing fewer than seven goals per game, although Tillman said the team was making adjustments after giving up 15 to Hopkins on Saturday. It held Ohio State to nine goals in the first meeting, which was one of the team’s goals, he added.
Reducing that number Thursday is the team’s new focus – it has had plenty of offensive production over the past month, including from senior Jay Carlson, who has scored 10 goals on his last 12 shots over the past four games. Maryland picked up plenty of decorations when the Big Ten released its annual awards Tuesday – senior Casey Ikeda was named Big Ten defensive player of the year and goalie Kyle Bernlohr earned first-team honors. Bernlohr leads the country in goals against average (6.30) and ranks second in save percentage (.608).
“Obviously there’s more to do. We have more goals,” Tillman said. “Given some of the challenges that we’ve had, the injuries we’ve had, the losses to graduation and such, for our guys to put together the resume they have, I’m certainly proud of them.”