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Pat Spencer was the best player in college lacrosse. He’s held his own as a Big Ten basketball player, too.

Northwestern guard Pat Spencer dribbles against Maryland during a game, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in College Park.
Northwestern guard Pat Spencer dribbles against Maryland during a game, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in College Park.(Julio Cortez/AP)

For four years, No. 7 held court for the Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse program. On Tuesday night, No. 12 tried to do the same for the Northwestern men’s basketball team.

In his return to his home state since leaving the Greyhounds as one of the most prolific scorers in college lacrosse history, Pat Spencer — who wore a purple No. 12 jersey instead of his customary green-and-gray No. 7 — led the Wildcats against No. 7 Maryland in the final regular-season Big Ten tilt between the programs at the Xfinity Center.

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The 6-foot-3, 205-pound graduate student guard, who hails from Davidsonville and graduated from Boys’ Latin, totaled seven points, five rebounds and two assists. But Northwestern suffered its 10th loss in a row, 76-67, and slid to 6-19 overall and 1-14 in the conference. That was the more pressing matter to Spencer.

“I thought we got down early and kind of had to fight back the whole time,” he said in a tunnel between the team locker room and the court. “It was kind of a frustrating start, and I think we dug a little hole for ourselves. We were able to bounce back, but they’re a tough team and anytime you give a team like them that much leeway, it’s tough to come back.”

Spencer’s reputation preceded him. When he was introduced with the other Wildcats starters, there was a smattering of applause instead of the unfriendly reception many opponents get from the Maryland student body.

At one point early in the first half, a student’s attempt to unnerve Spencer fell flat when he yelled at the 2019 winner of the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy, “You’re really good at lacrosse!”

Loyola's Pat Spencer holds the ball during the first half against Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament in 2019.
Loyola's Pat Spencer holds the ball during the first half against Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament in 2019.(Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Spencer, the all-time leader in assists in Division I lacrosse, was relatively quiet in the first half. He missed all three shots he took from the floor, scored his only two points on free throws, collected two rebounds, and might have had more assists if his teammates didn’t miss close-range shots.

Spencer was considerably more active in the second half. He hit his first jumper 44 seconds after the break and blocked a 3-point attempt by 6-10 sophomore forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) with 15:59 left.

Following a couple defensive rebounds, Spencer showed off a little wizardry with a drive down the lane, a behind-the-back ball fake and a right-handed layup high off the glass with 12:22 remaining. On Northwestern’s next possession, he missed a jumper, but stole the ball from 6-7 freshman forward Donta Scott, who kicked the ball out of bounds.

Although Spencer’s numbers were a far cry from the 17-point, nine-rebound, three-assist, two-block performance he displayed in a 77-66 loss to the Terps in Evanston, Illinois, on Jan. 21, he earned praise from Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.

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“He’s a great passer with the ball over his head like he’s got the [lacrosse] stick working,” Turgeon said. “What an athlete. I was blown away at their place, I wasn’t prepared for what kind of athlete he was going to be. We have some really good athleticism, and he really stuck out there. I see why he dominated the way he did. He’s a good player.”

Spencer leads the Wildcats in assists (3.8) and steals (0.8) per game, ranks second in points (10.6) and minutes (29.0) and is third in rebounds (3.3). Coach Chris Collins said Spencer has already left a mark on his teammates.

“He’s been playing in rec leagues for four years, and you come out to the Big Ten after not playing competitive basketball since high school and you’ve got to play in these environments against these teams, it’s a remarkable feat,” he said. “It shows what kind of athlete and what kind of competitor he is. It’s been great to have him. Even though he’s only been here with us for this one season, he’s left a mark on our program with his competitiveness, with his edge, with his swagger.

"I didn’t know how good of a player he was going to be because nobody knew unless you played in rec leagues in Baltimore. But I knew that he had stuff that I wanted in my program, and he’s done an amazing job. The young players that we have, they’ve gotten better, and they’ve learned from him.”

Maryland guard Eric Ayala (5) goes up for a shot against Northwestern guard Pat Spencer during the first half Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in College Park.
Maryland guard Eric Ayala (5) goes up for a shot against Northwestern guard Pat Spencer during the first half Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in College Park.(Julio Cortez/AP)

Cliff Rees, the Boys’ Latin basketball coach who mentored Spencer and his younger brothers Cameron (who now plays for Loyola Maryland) and Will (who plays for the Lakers), had always believed that the eldest Spencer could contribute to a major program.

“He’s just such a competitor and so athletic, and I knew he was a good player,” Rees said. “So no, I’m not surprised at all. I know he’d like to win more games because really that’s what he’s about. But I think he’s out there giving it everything he’s got, that’s for sure.”

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Spencer said he doesn’t concern himself with what others think.

“I just wanted to prove to myself that I could play at this level like I thought I could,” he said. “I played against a lot of the guys that have played at this level in high school. [Maryland junior guard Darryl] Morsell and those guys are playing at a high level, but I knew what I was capable of in high school, and I felt like after four years of a high-level Division I sport, I’d be able to compete at this level, and I’ve certainly validated that for myself.”

In addition to Rees, the Loyola Maryland lacrosse coaching staff of coach Charley Toomey, offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale, defensive coordinator Matt Dwan, volunteer assistant coach Steve Vaikness and director of operations Chris Myers attended Tuesday’s game.

After the game, Spencer was greeted by seven current members of the Greyhounds lacrosse team and former midfielder P.J. Brown, who graduated last spring with Spencer. Dozens of family members and friends applauded and hugged Spencer, who appreciated the love.

“It’s incredible, and I had so many people that were here supporting me,” he said. “I’m thankful for all of those people supporting me along the way. It’s just nice to come back and be able to play a game in front of them.”

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