Maryland men’s lacrosse got out to a blazing start to the game, nailing four of its first five shots en route to a four-goal advantage in the opening quarter. Not only were the Terps efficient, but they were unselfish — a theme that stayed true throughout the entirety of the night.
Braden Erska — who’s scored 10 of his 12 goals on the season over the past five games — acted as a feeder for each of Maryland’s first three scores. The freshman connected with Ryan Siracusa, Jack Koras and Zach Whittier, finding open teammates who got past the Rutgers defense.
Seven of Maryland’s eight first-half goals were assisted, just the second time it’s registered seven assists in a half this season. No. 4 Maryland (8-3, 3-1 Big Ten) used that selflessness Sunday to push past No. 9 Rutgers (8-4, 1-3 Big Ten) for its fifth road win of the season, 11-8.
“When we were moving it, it was moving pretty good,” coach John Tillman said.
While not from Erska, Maryland’s next two goals both came off assists, this time from Jack Brennan and Kyle Long. Brennan and Long set up Daniel Maltz and Koras, respectively, to put the Terps up 5-0 at the 14:19 mark of the second quarter.
Maltz and Whittier weren’t done with their opening-half scoring. The pair both found the back of the net for a second time prior to the break. Each goal was assisted as Maryland continued its selflessness attack.
Whittier joined the assist parade when he fed Daniel Kelly midway through the third quarter, giving the sophomore his third three-point game of the season.
Eric Spanos’ first-half goal was one of just three unassisted scores from the Terps. He dove in front of the crease, weaving a shot between multiple Scarlet Knights into the back of the net. It gave Spanos, who’s stepped up as an impactful bench piece in recent weeks, his 10th score of the season and fifth-straight game with a goal.
Spanos wasn’t done. He connected late in the third quarter for his second-straight multi-goal game.
Like Spanos, Siracusa and Whittier have excelled on Tillman’s offensive second line. The duo entered last weekend with just five combined goals this season but have exceeded that number in the past two games since Tillman has started to use his bench earlier in outings.
Maryland’s defense was as excellent as its offense in the first quarter, constantly hounding Rutgers on every possession. The Terps forced four turnovers while the Scarlet Knights missed all five of their shots.
“We did a great job of … playing solid team defense and relying on each other,” defender Ajax Zappitello said.
Rutgers finally joined Maryland on the scoreboard with a four-goal second quarter, including a score 11 seconds before halftime.
The Scarlet Knights were much more efficient with their looks in the second frame, converting on 40 percent of their shots. Rutgers practiced similar unselfishness as the Terps with four different scorers accounting for its second-quarter goals.
But the Maryland defense started the second half the same way it started the first, suffocating Rutgers’ offense. It turned the ball over five times — in addition to a shot clock violation — in the third quarter, and missed nine of 10 shots against a stifling Terps defense.
Rutgers shot just 22 percent in the contest and finished with 14 turnovers. Maryland goalkeeper Brian Ruppel played a large role in the Scarlet Knights’ struggles, recording his second-highest save percentage of the season.
Ruppel’s excellent performance as the anchor of the Terps’ defense paired perfectly with Maryland’s unselfish offense to keep Tillman’s squad in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings.
“Winning in the league is hard,” Tillman said. “Winning on the road on a Sunday night is hard.”