BALTIMORE – Maryland men’s lacrosse played patiently, chewing time off the shot clock with limited time left in the game. Its lead had just been cut to four with under six minutes remaining after a tally from Garrett Degnon that momentarily silenced the crowd assembled at Homewood Field.
But the Terps got the ball back after Luke Wierman’s faceoff win. With the shot clock under 10 seconds, Jack Brennan made his move against a Blue Jays defender. He went to his left before firing a running, one-legged shot into the top of the net.
The Maryland bench and crowd went into a frenzy after the strike, one that capped off a 14-9 comeback victory over Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. The No. 3-seed Terps will return to Homewood Field on May 6 to face No. 4-seed Michigan in the conference championship.
“Certainly didn’t start great, but proud of the way our guys fought and battled,” coach John Tillman said. “It certainly wasn’t a work of art or necessarily clean but just thought we had great effort.”
Johns Hopkins’ defense smothered Maryland’s offense early. The Terps were unable to get into the teeth of the Blue Jays defense — seemingly every time they tried, defenders stood them up.
Maryland missed its first four shots and committed four turnovers within the first 11 minutes of the game, a stretch in which it went scoreless.
But the Terps then found their groove offensively.
A pair of midfielders teamed up at the 3:12 mark of the opening frame to start their scoring. Kyle Long found Jack Koras right in front of the cage. The latter then dumped a shot over Johns Hopkins’ goalkeeper, Tim Marcille.
[Maryland’s success against Johns Hopkins hinges on Luke Wierman’s faceoff performance]
Long continued his work as a distributor when he connected with Daniel Kelly in the opening minute of the second quarter. Kelly’s goal kick-started a phenomenal five-goal second quarter from the Terps that saw them take their first lead of the game after giving up three goals to start the game.
The comeback started on the other end, as Maryland clamped up defensively and allowed its offense to work in transition.
Three of the Terps’ five second-frame scores came after successful clears, something they struggled to do in the opening period. Johns Hopkins held a two-clear advantage after the first 15 minutes, but Maryland gained seven clears to the Blue Jays’ four in the second quarter.
Those plays fueled a balanced offense. Four different Terps scored in the second quarter, one they ended with a 6-4 lead.
“Obviously Luke [Wierman] did better in the second quarter … possessions got evened out a little bit and I thought our guys just handled some of the pressure,” Tillman said. “… We tried to have more poise … I thought these guys communicated pretty well.”
The break had no effect on the Terps’ offense. It connected twice in the first five minutes of the second half. The latter came from Eric Spanos, who slipped free from a defender before converting on a Zach Whittier feed with four seconds left on the shot clock.
Maryland was diligent with its possessions in the third frame. All seven of its shots in the quarter landed on goal. The Terps continued to excel off successful clears, as half of their scores in the period came directly off one.
The excellent transition offense showed on Maryland’s fifth goal of the third quarter. Goaltender Brian Ruppel saved a Degnon shot at the 2:36 mark of the frame and immediately found an open Will Schaller near midfield.
[No. 4 Maryland men’s lacrosse falls to No. 7 Johns Hopkins in regular season finale, 12-11]
Ruppel’s feed hit Schaller in stride and the midfielder connected with Owen Murphy for a quick score. Ryan Siracusa added one last third-quarter goal with 20 seconds left to extend Maryland’s lead to four entering the final frame.
The Terps added a pair of scores in the fourth quarter as their offense shined following a sluggish opening period. The opposite was true for Johns Hopkins.
Russell Melendez and Casey McDermott combined for the first three goals of the day for the Blue Jays, giving them a 3-0 lead less than six minutes in.
“I told the guys [when] we got down three-nothing, just need to take a deep breath,” defender Brett Makar said. “… You’ve got to feel out your opponent for those first few minutes.”
He highlighted the Maryland timeout after McDermott’s goal, calling it a chance for the Terps to regroup and come out with more urgency. They did, with increased defensive pressure that forced the Hopkins offense to stumble. Maryland forced nine turnovers and 10 missed shots over the remainder of the half.
Johns Hopkins’ offense improved in the second half, converting on four of its nine shots in the third period. The Blue Jays added a score in the fourth quarter but their defensive struggles provided too much to overcome as they fell to the Terps on their home turf.