A week after learning how to come from behind in last week’s win at Penn State, the Terps were faced with another task as they jostled for the lead throughout the game with Rutgers in a game with five ties and three lead changes.
Senior midfielder Connor Kelly’s eight points (four goals, four assists) were enough to propel the No. 1 Terps (10-1, 3-0) past the No. 8 Scarlet Knights (8-4, 1-2) in a 11-10 victory at Capital One Field on Sunday afternoon.
“If there’s a better player out there this year I haven’t seen him,” head coach John Tillman said of Kelly. “I haven’t seen any guys that have a bigger impact on their team, and we’ve seen some pretty good ones.”
With this eight-point performance, Kelly now has 60 points through 11 games after notching 57 points last spring in what was the most productive season for a Maryland midfielder, ever.
Sloppy turnovers and an undisciplined defense plagued the Terps during the final three quarters. Despite coming into the game with the conference’s worst performing faceoff group, Rutgers senior faceoff specialist Joe Francisco won 15-of-23 faceoffs while freshman Justin Shockey continued to struggle.
Senior attackman Jules Heningburg recorded a balanced four points on two goals and two assists to lead the Scarlet Knights offense. Those four points took him up to 61 points on the season through 12 games.
After controlling possession and the pace of the game for the opening seven minutes, Kelly got things going for the Terps, drawing a non-releasable illegal bodycheck on a right wing dodge. Maryland’s top-ranked extra man offense took advantage, scoring twice on the man up, thanks to timely Kelly skip passes that were finished off by sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt.
The first feed setup a beautiful underhand low-to-high shot from Bernhardt, while the second goal came on the backside doorstep. On the ensuing faceoff, Shockey then pushed it forward and fed it to Kelly at the point for the goal.
The Terps blanked Rutgers in the first quarter with stingy defense, barely allowing the Scarlet Knights to get off a shot. That changed in the second quarter, as Kieran Mullins scored off good ball movement 49 seconds into the quarter.
Maryland’s defense continued to stifle, causing seven turnovers in the half. Senior goalie Dan Morris recorded six saves, making some impressive stops like this off-hip save late in the second.
Kelly then scored left-handed on-the-run shot from the split dodge from the top to make it 5-1 with 12:51 left. It looked like another Maryland takeover, but Rutgers had other ideas.
The Scarlet Knights ended the half on a 4-0 run that was fueled by a lack of discipline both offensively and defensively from the Terps. The offense made an uncharacteristic five turnovers in the second quarter alone and were flagged for seven penalties in the half.
“We just had so many self-inflicted wounds,” Tillman said. “Seven penalties and six in one quarter, I don’t think I’ve ever been at a lacrosse game with six penalties in a quarter. You can’t expect to win many games like that, and that was the message at half time.”
While Maryland’s man-down defense killed the first six extra man opportunities for Rutgers, Mullins’ finish on the doorstep from Heningburg’s skip pass tied it up at five going into the half.
“With the penalties, we talk about playing with emotion but not emotional,” Morris said. “Coach addressed it at halftime, we played a little emotional in the first half but I thought the half was a good reset button so we can compose ourselves for the second half.”
Junior midfielder Casey Rose continued things for the Rutgers offense, as his right-handed goal on the run gave the Scarlet Knights their first lead of the game. Freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman then sandwiched senior midfielder Christian Mazzone’s off-ball cut and finished with two goals of his own.
Kelly completed the hat trick with a step-back and step-down shot to retake the lead at 8-7. Heningburg then tied it back up with a minute left in the third, capitalizing off Maryland’s third failed clearance of the day with a carbon copy of his first goal in transition of some good riding. Rose then scored his second goal two and a half minutes into the final quarter with a nifty wing dodge against the short stick defensive matchup.
The Terps then ended its 16-minute goal drought with three goals in less than two minutes. Kelly backed down his defender and passed it to an awaiting Anthony DeMaio, who stung to the top left corner with the step-down shot.
Rotanz wasted no time to keep the momentum rolling with an unassisted effort before Kelly scored a right-handed goal on the run for his fourth of the game. The Terps led 11-9 with 3:21 left in the game.
It looked as if the Terps were about to implode, as they gave up another goal off their fourth failed clear attempt of the game. Junior midfielder Mark Christiano assisted freshman attackman Tommy Coyne for the transition goal to give Rutgers some final hope.
“We’ve practiced in rain before and have played in all different types of weather so we can’t put it on the weather,” Morris said regarding the five failed clear attempts. “Today was a tough day for us with the stick work. We need to go back to it the next practice and dial it back in.”
Rutgers won the following faceoff, but two missed shots from freshman midfielder Ryan Gallagher and a caused turnover by sophomore defenseman Jack Welding all but sealed Maryland’s NCAA-best 16th consecutive 10-win season.
The Terps will stay home to host Ohio State in a rematch of last season’s title game next Sunday at 2 p.m.
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