No. 2 Maryland men’s lacrosse wasn’t perfect defensively in its win over No. 11 Penn State Saturday, giving up eight first half goals to enter halftime with a slim lead.
“We either didn’t communicate well, we either were extending too far or overextending or we got caught up in the matchups,” coach John Tillman said. “But they’re really good … you really have to be on the same page.”
The second half started with goals from each side within the first couple of minutes but after that, the Terps turned in a sparkling defensive effort. Maryland held Penn State scoreless for more than 26 minutes, a span that included 13 missed shots and seven turnovers.
The strong performance came even as the Terps faced an experienced Nittany Lions squad.
Penn State graduate student attacker Jack Traynor registered his first hat trick of the season in the first half and scored his fourth goal in the opening minute of the second. He didn’t score again for the rest of the game.
TJ Malone — one of two Nittany Lions with 19 goals this season — struck twice in the first 30 minutes but didn’t connect once after that. He missed three shots and committed a turnover in the second half.
The Terps also stifled Mac Costin. The Penn State senior midfielder missed all three of his second half shots and turned the ball over three times in the third quarter.
“At halftime [assistant coach and defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt] did a good job with the defense, just tightening things down, making some adjustments,” Tillman said.
Junior defender Ajax Zappitello — one of the leaders of the Maryland defense — echoed Tillman’s thoughts, saying Bernhardt acts as if games are scoreless, a mentality that helps players reset.
One player who benefited from that approach was freshman goalie Brian Ruppel. He struggled in the first half, allowing eight goals and saving just three shots — a save percentage of just 27 percent. But he turned his day around after halftime, saving six Penn State shots while letting just two find the back of the net for the rest of the game.
Ruppel has soared for the Terps following a lower body injury to senior Logan McNaney. Maryland is 4-1 in games he’s started.
Despite his youth, Ruppel has excelled in pressure situations. In his team’s win over No. 1 Virginia, he blocked three consecutive Cavalier shots in overtime before Daniel Kelly scored the game winner. Against Penn State, he kept the Terps afloat in the second half.
“He’s very calm, cool and collected, regardless of what’s happening in front of him,” Tillman said. “He gives up four or five goals, he doesn’t change … he’s been great. He’s kind of an even keeled kid by nature.”
Ruppel and the rest of the Maryland defense limited the Nittany Lions to their third worst offensive efficiency outing of the season and secured a win in the Terps’ Big Ten opener.