On Saturday, the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team had done to Maryland what no other opponent in 2018 had done. The Blue Jays prevented the Terps from scoring 10 goals, but ultimately dropped an 8-7 decision in triple overtime.
After the game, senior goalkeeper Brock Turnbaugh did not mince words about what the defense's expectations should be.
"This is how we should play every game," the Phoenix resident and Hereford graduate said matter-of-factly. "It's been a while since we played good, solid team defense. As a goalie, I don't expect anything less from our defense from here on out."
How Johns Hopkins and Maryland fare in the Big Ten tournament — which opens Thursday with semifinals pitting the top-seeded Terps (11-2) against No. 4 seed Rutgers (9-5) and the No. 2 seed Blue Jays (9-4) against No. 3 seed Ohio State (8-6) — could depend on whether they can repeat their defensive outings from Saturday.
As suffocating as Johns Hopkins was, Maryland was slightly better, holding the Blue Jays to almost six goals below their season average.
Terps coach John Tillman is also looking for his defense to sustain its effort from Saturday.
"I'm hoping we can build off of that," he said. "We're going to need to going forward. We have to get back to being more like a Maryland defense and hopefully after the really tough schedule that we played, there's some confidence with some of our guys knowing that they played a really tough schedule."
The Terps got solid individual showings from junior defenseman Curtis Corley, who limited sophomore attackman Cole Williams to one assist and no goals, and fifth-year senior goalkeeper Dan Morris, who made a game-high 13 saves. But a more encouraging sign was that the defense did not give up 10 goals as it had in each of its previous three games against Penn State, Rutgers and Ohio State.
"We take a ton of pride in our defense at Maryland," Morris said. "We've had decades upon decades of great defensemen and great defenses. The last couple games, we've been getting torn up a little bit, giving up a lot more goals than the standard is for our defense. … I think it was a good gut-check game, and I think our guys played well today, and giving up seven goals is always a good thing."
Johns Hopkins blanketed the Terps' top two playmakers. Junior long-stick midfielder Robert Kuhn contained senior midfielder Connor Kelly to one assist and 0-of-13 shooting, and junior defenseman Patrick Foley held sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt to 0-for-11 shooting and one assist.
Coach Dave Pietramala was pleased by the defense's preparation leading up to Saturday's game, and said he wants to see the players replicate that effort again.
"The hope is that we can duplicate the level of preparation we put into that game and the level of selflessness and that we can make those quality decisions that we made as to when to support and when to not, to follow the game plan," he said. "Clearly the ability is there. It's just a lack of consistency. And this is a chance to prove that we've developed consistency because if you do it and you do it again, you're showing the ability to do it on a consistent basis. If we do it and then don't do it this week, we're still inconsistent."
Both defenses will be challenged Thursday. For Maryland, Rutgers has averaged 11.4 goals and ranks 14th in Division I in shooting percentage at .330. For Johns Hopkins, Ohio State has averaged 10 goals in its past four games and ranks 15th in the nation in faceoff percentage at .570, which means more possessions for the offense.
ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said he would not be surprised if the games open up because the Terps and Blue Jays are facing opponents that are not their archrivals.
"A lot of people think it will be a defensive battle because you're coming off of short rest and turnaround," he said. "But I also think there was so much invested into that rivalry that I almost think the guys will play a little looser. It's going to be at Michigan, it won't be a big crowd, and there's going to be a lot of distractions outside of the realm on the field."
All three Big Ten tournament champions have finished the postseason holding their semifinal and final opponents to less than 10 goals each. Maybe that trend will continue this weekend, but Pietramala said what matters is winning the title and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"I'd like to believe that defense wins championships, but at the end of the day, I don't care what helps you win it as long as you win it," said Pietramala, who is regarded by many as the best defenseman to play the sport. "I certainly think if you can hold an opponent below their scoring average and frustrate them, that creates opportunity for you as a team. I've seen more teams now than ever before win because they score goals. So in my heart of hearts as a traditionalist, I would like to believe that, but at the end of the day, whatever wins you the game, wins you the game."
The University of Michigan will be host for the men’s and women’s tournaments on Thursday through Sunday at its new U-M Lacrosse Stadium.
The men's semifinal games on Thursday will be broadcast on BTN:
» No. 4 seed Rutgers vs. No. 1 seed Maryland, 4 p.m.
» No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins vs. No. 3 seed Ohio State, 6:30 p.m.
The winners will meet Saturday at 7 p.m. It will be shown on BTN.
On the women's side, the semifinal games will be Friday, also broadcast on BTN:
» No. 4 seed Johns Hopkins vs. No. 1 seed Maryland, 5 p.m.
» No. 2 seed Northwestern vs. No. 3 seed Penn State, 7:30 p.m.
The winners will meet Sunday at noon. It will be shown on BTN.