Three takeaways from Maryland’s penalty shootout win over Rutgers in Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinal

(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

After a cagey first half and slow beginning to the second half, the game came to life with 15 minutes remaining.

Rutgers took the lead in the 75th minute when Norweigan freshman Ola Maeland scored an incredible acrobatic scissor kick. The cross came from Senegalese freshman Moussa Sabaly, who did well to beat two Terps before putting in the cross. 

It looked like the Scarlet Knights would be able to ride the game out and advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, but junior forward Justin Geilen found some space in the 83rd minute and curled in a shot from 20 yards out, which leveled the game at one. 

The Terps thought they had a penalty in the 99th minute, but the referee did not give a foul after freshman midfielder Ben Bender appeared to be brought down by Sabaly in the box. Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski was irate and was sent off after he was given two consecutive yellow cards for dissent in wake of the nondecision.

Goalkeepers from both sides, Rutgers’ sophomore Oren Asher and Maryland’s freshman Jamie Lowell, made crucial saves late in the second half and in overtime which sent the game to penalty kicks.

A miss from both sides and a huge save by Lowell saw redshirt senior forward Mike Heitzmann step up with a chance to win it for the Terps. Heitzmann put his penalty right down the middle and scored, winning the game for Maryland and sending the Terps into the Big Ten Semifinals.

Here are my three takeaways from Maryland’s Big Ten Quarterfinal win over Rutgers.

Mental toughness key for Maryland

The Terps have overcome a lot of adversity to get to this point of the season.

Maryland’s last scheduled regular season game at Indiana was cancelled on a recommendation from its medical staff due to a lack of healthy players, unrelated to COVID-19 positives. This came after the Terps played only 13 players in a 2-2 draw at home against Penn State.

The injury-riddled Terps got more bad news as redshirt senior captain Paul Bin announced that he would be out for the remainder of the postseason, marking the end of his Maryland career.

Despite this, Maryland played a full 110 minutes with just 15 players, with many starters logging over 90 minutes of play. Multiple players were playing through injuries or with a knock.

“We’re thin, but we’re tough,” Cirovski said after the match.

Maryland also missed three of its six penalty kicks this season, something that was sure to be on the mind of the players going into the penalty kick shootout.

However, the Terps went on to score five of their six attempts in the shootout with Heitzmann scoring the winner.

“I’ve been waiting for that moment, because I missed one in the Big Ten Semifinal against Indiana in 2018,” Heitzmann said. “I’ve always had that in the back of my mind and I knew I wasn’t going to miss, just knew it. I needed a little redemption.”

Maryland’s last loss this season came against Rutgers in a 2-0 defeat in Piscataway. Since that game, Maryland has come a long way, evidenced by yesterday’s victory.

“That was a different Maryland team, as [Cirovski] says,” Heitzmann said. “We’ve kind of put some pieces together and it was a much better performance from our side.”

Despite the injuries, penalty troubles, and previous loss against Rutgers this season, the Terps were able to put on a quality and gutsy performance. Maryland will need more of the same against a top-seeded and nationally ranked Indiana if it wants to advance to the Big Ten Final. 

Lowell stepped up in goal for the Terps

Lowell commanded his box well against a Rutgers team that was threatening on set pieces and made four saves, including some at close range.

Lowell’s huge save in the 106th minute after senior forward Richie Barry found space on the counter attack saved the game for the Terps and sent the game to penalty kicks. He also stepped up in the penalty shootout with a clutch save on Rutgers’ sixth penalty kick, giving Heitzmann the chance to win it for the Terps.

“I really didn’t feel that stressed,” Lowell said. “I knew I just needed to make one or two saves.”

“I think he had a sense of confidence, and you can see he’s maturing and getting stronger from game to game,” Cirovski added.

Lowell began the year as the starting goalkeeper for Maryland before being dropped for German sophomore Niklas Neumann, who wasn’t available for Maryland’s first three matches. Lowell recently worked his way back into the starting lineup and showed why yesterday. He’ll hope to continue against an Indiana team that’s scored the most goals in the Big Ten this season.

Sabaly was a problem for Maryland’s defense, and that’s a cause for concern

Sabaly was the standout performer for Rutgers, creating multiple chances and assisting Naeland’s goal, which put the Scarlet Knights up in the 75th minute. He was the main source of Maryland’s problems, with his pace, hold up play, and passing ability allowing Rutgers to create multiple chances and transition into the attacking third. 

The Terps will be up against an even tougher challenge against Indiana.

Sophomore forward Victor Bezerra will be a handful for the Terps defense. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and unanimous Big Ten First Team selection is coming off a brace in Indiana’s quarterfinal match against Northwestern. He’s the top goalscorer in the Big Ten and leads the Big Ten in points with 19, five more than any other player.

The Terps’ defense will hope to step up and stifle an in-form Bezerra in its match against Indiana.

Other notes

Maryland seemed to focus on advancing the ball through its fullbacks, redshirt sophomore Nick Richardson and German freshman Alex Nitzl. Both had notable performances for the Terps, especially Richardson. The right-back had a huge block to keep the game scoreless, swung multiple dangerous crosses into the box, and won a couple of fouls in dangerous positions.

Speaking of crosses, Maryland won a lot of headers in its attacking third, especially in the first half. Many of these crosses were met at the back post and squared back across Rutgers’ goal box, but all were cleared or scooped up by Asher. These are huge opportunities, and if the Terps can focus on getting some late runners into the box to latch on to these second balls, they could find some easy goals in future games.

Maryland won its first penalty kick shootout since 2015. The Terps had lost three straight penalty shootouts since then.