Behind suffocating defense No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse storms back to defeat Johns Hopkins earning third Big Ten Tournament championship

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

With 6:24 remaining, Cole Williams searched for space as he was hounded by Maryland’s defense and launched a pass awry past the stick of Joey Epstein out of bounds. 

That was a common theme in the second half as the Blue Jays’ had 14 second-half turnovers unable to solve Maryland’s stifling defense. Kyle Long took advantage of that miscue on the ensuing possession, as he sprinted down the alley and stung the far post giving Maryland a 10-9 lead with 5:34 remaining.

3:37 later, Daniel Maltz completed his hat-trick on the doorstep after a feed from Logan Wisnauskas pushing Maryland’s lead to 11-9, inching them closer to a Big Ten Championship.

Matt Narewski scored for Johns Hopkins with 1:44 left, but Anthony DeMaio responded with 21 seconds remaining firing a shot into the open net with the Blue Jays desperately looking to cause a turnover.

DeMaio’s goal clinched Maryland’s 12-10 victory over in-state rival Johns Hopkins, extending their undefeated season. 

As the final buzzer sounded, a sea of red and white jerseys stormed the end of the field that Maryland’s defense thoroughly dominated in the second half. The Blue Jays mounted just two goals in the final 30 minutes, including a 27:16 drought without a goal. 

“Certainly proud of our guys to go the regular season and the conference tournament undefeated,” head coach John Tillman said. “It didn’t come easy tonight, we didn’t expect it to, but guys just stuck together. After falling behind I was impressed with the way we battled and just kind of dug in defensively.”

Nick Grill, Matt Rahill and Brett Makar combined to force five turnovers, while Logan McNaney finished with seven saves stepping up in the second half when the Terps needed it most.

Although Maryland’s defense stepped up big in the second half, the offense delivered timely finishes. DeMaio led the way with four points (2G, 2A), while Wisnauskas (2G, 1A), Jared Bernhardt (2G, 1A) and Maltz (3G) each added three points.

Bubba Fairman, Long and Eric Holden each tacked on a goal rounding out a diversified Maryland offensive attack. Unlike the last meeting against the Blue Jays, Maryland was more successful at the face-off X, winning 13 of 26 split between Justin Shockey and Luke Wierman.

The first quarter was an offensive explosion with both teams combining for 11 goals on 13 shots on net. Johns Hopkins orchestrated two separate three-goal runs with five different goal scorers in the opening period.

The Blue Jays offense flowed flawlessly in the opening quarter, rotating the ball from side-to-side. Maryland’s defense struggled to recover quickly on slides and also dealt with some unfortunate outcomes with defenders slipping and their sticks snapping.

After an early 3-1 deficit, Maryland’s quick strike offense responded with a trio of goals from Wisnauskas, DeMaio and Maltz. Now trailing 4-3, it was the Blue Jays’ turn to respond as Brendan Grimes, Garrett Degnon and Casey McDermott each beat McNaney.

Wisnauskas closed out the high-scoring first quarter beating Tim Marcille with 1:13 remaining, completing an opening 15 minutes with an eclectic pace.

Starting out the second quarter, Epstein was the leading catalyst for the Blue Jays offense with back-to-back goals in the opening six minutes. He showcased elite speed and athleticism wrapping around the cage to beat McNaney.

The Blue Jays defense fed off of Epstein’s energy as they stifled Maryland’s offense blocking several shots. The Terps looked rushed offensively not converting on simple passes with eight-first half turnovers. In need of a spark, Holden delivered, ending the Terps 14:57 scoring drought with 1:15 remaining in the first half.

That completed a fast-paced opening 30 minutes where Maryland trailed 8-6 in large part due to careless mistakes offensively and uncharacteristic defensive miscommunications. 

“Getting halftime to catch our breath and make some adjustments defensively, I thought Logan saw the ball a little better as the game went on,” Tillman said. “I thought we moved our feet a little bit better.”

59 seconds into the second half, the Blue Jays picked up right where they left off as Brett Baskin rifled a shot past McNaney. From that moment, Maryland’s defense locked down and refocused, shutting down the Blue Jays, while the offense slowly chipped away at the lead.

Bernhardt and Fairman each found the back of the net, setting up the Terps with a one-goal deficit entering the final quarter and building momentum.

“We went out in [the second half] and tried to space the field a little bit better,” DeMaio said. “That was definitely a problem in the first half just getting too jammed up and obviously we feed off the defense’s energy.”

Maryland’s physicality and defensive intensity maintained into the fourth as Maltz tied the game at nine with 11:17 remaining on the feed from Bernhardt. With each passing minute Maryland’s defense locked up tighter and tighter, as the turnovers mounted for the Blue Jays. 

Then the Terps responded with both aforementioned goals from Long and Maltz, which pushed their lead to 11-9 with 1:57 remaining.

With both teams exchanging goals after that, Maryland completed a hard-fought 12-10 victory and now will await their NCAA Tournament seeding with the selection show at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.