Long-stick midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen is one of several reasons why the Maryland defense has been one of the most formidable units in the nation. (Mandatory Credit: Zach Babo/InsideLacrosse)
The Teams: No. 3 Maryland Terrapins (11-1) at No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-3)
The Time: Saturday, 11 a.m.
The Location: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Oh.
The Backstory: Maryland has been one of the hottest teams in the nation as of late. The only blemish was a tough road loss at the hands of Yale, who currently ranked No. 7 in the latest USILA Coaches poll. The Terps are coming off a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory over Rutgers last Sunday evening. Attackman Matt Rambo had one of the best games of his Maryland career as he posted a six-point evening, including a career-high three assists. The LaSalle College High School alum even netted the game-winning goal on a beautiful shot. Part of the reason for Rambo’s success was that Rutgers wasn’t sure how to defend him. Rambo is usually just a scorer, but is getting more and more confident setting up his teammates as he currently has a team-high 12 assists on the season.
As impressive as Rambo and Maryland’s offensive attack have been at times, the Terps’ calling card has been their defense. The group absolutely smothers opposing teams, and isn’t just grizzled veterans. Obviously, defenders Matt Dunn and Casey Ikeda are absolute studs, and can match-up with just about any attackmen. However, with Dunn missing the last four games due to injury, the defense had to step up and sophomore defender Tim Muller abliged. For his efforts, Muller earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Muller picked up a career-high four ground balls against the Scarlet Knights, and was part of a group that completely shut down Rutgers for the final 3:35 of the game.
Keeping It Heel
Flip the script and Ohio State is the other powerhouse team in the Big Ten. Senior midfielder Jesse King and junior attackman Carter Brown lead the offensive attack for the Buckeyes. King is one of the more crafty players in the country, nevermind the Big Ten. The Canadian midfielder doesn’t need much space to make his mark, and Brown is just as talented. Brown is a Calvert Hall alum, and is a vulture around the net. Brown and King account for 43.8 percent of Ohio State’s points this season.
Ohio State did have a hard-fought battle against Michigan last Sunday as the Wolverines led 4-2 in the second quarter. However, the Buckeyes rattled off five consecutive goals to take a 7-4 lead into halftime. While King only ended up with one goal and one assist against Michigan, Ohio State got balanced scoring as the likes of Brown (two goals & an assist), attackman Colin Chell (3 & 2), and midfielder David Planning (2 & 3) picked up the scoring slack.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) Battle at “X” – Midfielder Charlie Raffa’s status for the game is questionable as he is still dealing with a right shoulder/arm injury. Raffa suffered the injury against Penn State back on April 4, and has sat out the last two games against Loyola (Md.) and Rutgers. In his absence, junior Jon Garino Jr. has won 12-of-28 face-offs (42.9 percent), and grabbed six ground balls. It appears that Maryland isn’t in any rush to bring Raffa back, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the senior doesn’t suit up on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have a pretty successful face-off ace in midfielder Christopher May. May has won 152-of-235 draws (64.7 percent) this season while scooping up a team-leading 106 ground balls. If Raffa can’t go, Garino will definitely have his hands full.
2.) Contain Jesse King – Senior midfielder Jesse King is a very craft scorer, which is evident in the fact that he leads the Buckeyes in goals (30). King is the type of player that doesn’t need much space to be effective. In fact, the Canadian midfielder is very capable of leaning against defenders, and creating his own shot. King is also a very unselfish player as he leads Ohio State in assists (18). Simply put, the ball is going to run through King on nearly very possession. The likes of Dunn and Ikeda will have to always play tight to him, and slide if necessary.
3.) Battle in net – Saturday’s match-up will features the top two teams in the Big Ten in terms of goals-against-average. Goalie Kyle Bernlohr has been a phenomenal story this season. Bernlohr was forced to sit behind star goalie Niko Amato for three years before finally getting his chance in 2015. The Akron native owns the Big Ten’s lowest goals-against-average (5.04) while Ohio State’s Tom Carey has the second lowest at 7.81. This may come down to which goalie makes the big saves for his team in the guts of the game.
4.) Big Ten title on the line – With a win on Saturday, Maryland will win at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title. After that, the Terps only have a struggling Johns Hopkins squad on the regular season schedule. However, it’s going to be a tough test against the Buckeyes. Saturday’s game is being played in the ‘Horseshoe’ before Ohio State’s spring football game, so there could be upwards of 30,000 fans in the stands. How Maryland comes out and handles the atmosphere could be very telling in terms of how this game goes.