Penn State Men’s Lacrosse 2021 Big Ten Tournament Preview
After what has been described as a “humbling” 2021 season by Nittany Lions’ head coach Jeff Tambroni, No. 19 Penn State men’s lacrosse is ready to start up postseason play.
After going 1-4 during the first phase of the season, Penn State bounced back and went 3-2 to end the year. The two most recent games have been a 14-13 overtime win versus Michigan at home on Senior Day and a 10-9 upset victory over then-No. 15 Ohio State on the road.
The Nittany Lions are entering the Big Ten Tournament on a winning streak, and their first matchup will be against the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. That game is set to take place at Panzer Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Let’s take a look at how the Nittany Lions may do in this year’s edition of the Big Ten Tournament:
Quarterfinal: Johns Hopkins (Saturday, 6 p.m)
Both teams are entering this game trending in different directions. Penn State is the winner of its last two, comes in with a 4-6 record, and is No. 19 in the USILA coaches poll. On the other hand, Hopkins is 2-8 on the season and has lost its last six games.
One of Johns Hopkins’ two wins on the season did come against Penn State — a 13-6 victory over the Nittany Lions in Baltimore on March 13. In that game, Connor DeSimone and Joey Epstein ran Penn State’s show, accounting for five and four points, respectively.
The Blue Jay defense shut down the Nittany Lions as well, only letting Penn State find the back of the cage six times in the game, which was the lowest goal output by Penn State in 63 games at that time. In the third quarter especially, Penn State was outshot 18-0 and outscored 7-0. It was the lowest point in the season for Tambroni and the Nittany Lions.
In the second matchup of the season on March 28, Penn State flipped the script in an 11-8 victory over then-No. 17 Johns Hopkins. Two big parts in Penn State’s victory were Colby Kneese, who made 15 saves, and Gerard Arceri, who won 18 draws compared to Hopkins’ five at the face-off X.
The biggest difference, however, was Penn State’s ability to shut down DeSimone and Epstein, as the duo combined for three points in the entire game. Hopkins has proven second-tier goal-scoring options just like attackman Cole Williams, who had three points in the second matchup. But DeSimone and Epstein are what makes the Blue Jays click.
If Penn State can recreate what it did in the second matchup, especially when it came to limiting Hopkins’ offensive big guns, this will be a very winnable game. The main question: Who will start in goal for Penn State?
Will it be Kneese, who shut down the Blue Jays last time out, or will it be Aleric Fyock, who had a stellar 15-save performance in Penn State’s regular-season finale win over Ohio State?
Semifinal: Rutgers (Thursday, May 6, 7:30 p.m)
If Penn State is able to get by Johns Hopkins, the No. 2-seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights would be in between the Nittany Lions and the tournament final. The game would not be easy though, as Rutgers handled Penn State in both matchups between the teams this season.
The first game between them was in the first game of the season when then-No. 17 Rutgers won a tightly contested game 11-9. The second matchup was a slaughter, as No. 7 Rutgers destroyed Penn State 22-10 at Panzer Stadium.
In both games, Rutgers’ attackman Connor Kirst had seven points. Kirst is the stud that Penn State needs to limit if it wants a chance in the game.
Recently drafted No. 7 overall by the Whipsnakes in the 2021 PLL draft, the Villanova transfer has 45 points in 10 games this season. It’s not just Kirst, though, as seventh-year graduate student Adam Charalambides, who is No. 7 in the country in goals per game (3.50), and redshirt senior Kieran Mullins have also terrorized Big Ten defenses this season. Rutgers has the No. 6 scoring offense in the nation, averaging 15.30 goals a game.
The Nittany Lions would enter this game as massive underdogs, and their defensive struggles this season would most likely lead to a defeat. On the offensive side in both the games against Rutgers, TJ Malone was the main man for Penn State, amassing nine points over the two games. If Malone has a big game as an offensive facilitator, Penn State would be able to score some goals through Mac O’Keefe and Dylan Foulds.
If Penn State wants a chance in this hypothetical game, it would need to be a track meet with both teams scoring at a ridiculous pace. Nothing, especially Penn State’s struggling defense, would be able to stop the Scarlet Knights’ lethal attack.
Final: Maryland (Saturday, May 8, 8 p.m)
The winner of the other quarterfinal match between Ohio State and Michigan will play Maryland in the semifinals, which will also take place at Panzer Stadium. Considering Maryland is the No. 1 team in the country, the first seed in the tournament, and 10-0 on the year, it’s safe to assume the Terps should cruise into the final.
In the two games between Penn State and Maryland this season, the Terps dismantled the Nittany Lions both times. In the first matchup on February 26, No. 4 Maryland beat No. 13 Penn State 13-7. In the second game, No. 3 Maryland whipped Penn State 17-10. Penn State was down 13-4 at the 11:52 mark of the third quarter before finishing the game strong on a 6-4 run.
Similar to Kirst on Rutgers, Jared Bernhardt terrorized Penn State in both games and earned 15 points across them. He leads the Terps with 62 points on the season followed by Logan Wisnauskas’s 49.
Bernhardt averages 6.20 points a game, which is third-best in the country. As one of the best attackers in the country, it’s safe to say Bernhardt will put up points in any game, especially against Penn State.
It’s hard to spot a weakness on the Terps that Penn State could expose. Maryland has the third-best scoring offense in the country, averaging 16.60 goals a game. The Nittany Lions would need whoever is in goal to play the game of his life and have O’Keefe or Malone outscore Bernhardt, which is something no player has been able to do this season.
Maryland may be the best-equipped team to not only win the Big Ten but the national championship. Penn State would be massive underdogs if it got to this point in the tournament, but the Nittany Lions would be winners of four straight and be riding the high of beating a great Rutgers team. Remember, anything can happen in the postseason.
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