After winning their respective semifinal games in the 2022 Big Ten Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, the top two seeds in the conference will square off with a league championship on the line.
Top-seeded and undefeated Maryland defeated No. 4-seed Johns Hopkins, and No. 2-seed Rutgers beat No. 3-seed Ohio State on Thursday night to advance. The two teams have been the premier teams in the Big Ten all season long and will have an opportunity to prove it in Saturday’s championship game.
The short turnaround from Thursday to Saturday is something that both teams’ coaches were preparing for during their bye weeks, which they earned as the tournament’s top two seeds.
“I didn’t like last week, but I did like this week when [the team] showed up ready to go on Monday,” Rutgers head coach Brian Brecht said. “They had a good week of practice.”
“You’re playing two games in three days,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said, echoing Brecht’s sentiment. “You gotta be careful about what you’re doing this week because it is a quick turnaround.”
Even with the lack of time to rest and prepare, there’s no doubt that Saturday’s game will be intense with the Big Ten title up for grabs.
Saturday, May 7, 8:00 p.m., Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
streaming: Fox Sports
How did they get here?
No. 1-seed Maryland Terrapins (13-0, 6-0 Big Ten)
The Terps are seeking to enter their second straight NCAA tournament with an undefeated record, rolling through the regular season and beating Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Semifinals.
Maryland finished a strong non-conference schedule with an undefeated 7-0 record that included wins over three teams currently ranked in the top 10: Princeton, Virginia and Notre Dame.
Heading into conference play, the Terps seemed to keep rolling. Their first Big Ten contest was a cold Sunday night game at Penn State, which they handedly won by a score of 18-7.
Then, Maryland traveled to Ann Arbor for a showdown with Michigan. In arguably their sloppiest game all season, the Terps still managed to put distance between them and the Wolverines, coming home with an eight-goal victory. That game, played on April 2, was the last time that Maryland had to leave its home state for a game.
Returning home to Maryland Stadium, the Terps were expected to face one of their toughest challenges all year, but they blew past Rutgers, 17-9. That win put Maryland in the driver’s seat to clinch the Big Ten regular season championship and be the top seed in the Big Ten tournament.
To get that No. 1 seed, the Terps had to beat Ohio State. Maryland struggled early and fell behind in the second quarter, but it eventually pulled away for a 19-12 victory in the last regular season game in College Park.
Maryland wrapped up its season with a short drive to Baltimore for its 116th all-time matchup against Johns Hopkins. However, this year’s result was not indicative of the historical back-and-forth associated with “The Rivalry.” A dominant performance led to Maryland coming away with a 22-7 win.
The Terps once again ran into Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Semifinals and moved to 13-0 after winning by five. The Blue Jays hung around, but a strong second quarter and constant pressure eventually led to Maryland’s offense, the highest-scoring in the country, beginning to rack up goals.
“I think we did a better job as the game went on,” Tillman said. “[We were] trying to get a little more towards the middle of the field, and when we did I thought we had more success for sure.”
No. 2-seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-2, 5-1 Big Ten)
After finishing the non-conference schedule with an 8-1 record, Rutgers continued to play high-level lacrosse against Big Ten competition. Other than an atypical eight-goal defeat to Maryland, the Scarlet Knights ran the table in the conference.
The team’s conference opener was at home against Ohio State and they handled the Buckeyes with ease, coming away with an 18-7 victory. They then followed that up with another conference win at home, beating Johns Hopkins by five.
In the team’s last two regular season games, Rutgers had to squeak by the bottom two teams in the Big Ten. One goal wins over both Michigan and Penn State were cause for concern heading into the postseason.
The Scarlet Knights started slow against Ohio State in the Big Ten Semifinals, trailing by three at halftime, but a second-half surge lifted Rutgers to a 12-9 win over the Buckeyes and earned them another shot at Maryland for the Big Ten championship.
“We just messed up a few things in the first quarter that we were really keying in on,” Rutgers senior midfielder Brennan Kamish said of his team’s adjustments midway through the game. “We really dialed in knowing what we’re supposed to do. It was really just falling back on that.”
What happened last time?
When Maryland and Rutgers faced on April 10, it was tabbed as the game of the year in the Big Ten. However, once the game started, it became clear that the Terps were the class of the conference.
In fewer than five minutes, Maryland led by five and had gotten all the cushion it needed to cruise to victory. Rutgers answered with two straight goals, but a goal from graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville put the Terps up 6-2 after the first quarter.
“I kind of felt confident that we were going to have a good start and be ready to go,” Maryland senior defenseman Brett Makar said after the game.
The second quarter, like the first, belonged to Maryland, as they outscored Rutgers 5-2 to take a seven goal lead into halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Maryland fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas made history, assisting on a goal to sophomore attacker Eric Malever. That assist was point No. 291 in his career, putting him clear of Jared Bernhardt for the Maryland program record.
The Terps ended up winning by a final score of 17-9. Thirteen of Maryland’s 17 goals were assisted, a showcase of the altruism of the Terps’ offensive attack.
“They came out really hard against us. We fell behind and we never really caught up,” Rutgers senior attacker Mitch Bartolo said of the teams’ matchup earlier this season. “We’re a better team than we showed.”
Three things to watch
1. Maryland is going for conference tournament title No. 8. Maryland men’s lacrosse has won seven conference tournaments in its history. Four of those came in the ACC in 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2011. The Terps have also won the Big Ten tournament three times: 2016, 2017 and last year in 2021. Those 2016 and 2017 titles marked the only time that the same school won back-to-back Big Ten tournaments. Rutgers has never won a conference tournament in the history of its men’s lacrosse program.
2. Goalies will be key. Junior Logan McNaney has been catching fire as of late, making at least 11 saves in each of his last five appearances. On the other end, Rutgers senior goalie Colin Kirst is considered among the best goalies in the country, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors. He has made double-digit saves in all but three games this season. Both teams’ offenses will have their work cut out for them, and if one goalie gets hot, the tide of the game could turn.
“When we had some time off, we still [competed] with each other on and off the field, in the weight room, all that good stuff,” McNaney said of keeping his focus in net after a week off. He made a season-high 14 saves in Maryland’s semifinal game against Johns Hopkins.
3. How will Luke Wierman perform? The fact that Maryland junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman going 10-of-22 on faceoffs in the team’s semifinal game against Johns Hopkins was his least impressive performance of the season is impressive within itself. But, the Blue Jays’ faceoff success was a reason why they were able to hang around more than they did during the regular season. When the Terps are winning faceoffs, they are able to mask some of their mistakes, and an elite team like Rutgers will capitalize. A big day from Wierman and junior Gavin Tygh could mean another strong performance by Maryland against the Scarlet Knights.