Blue Jays, Terps view Big Ten men's lacrosse tourney differently

The Big Ten tournament opens Thursday with a pair of semifinal games at Homewood Field in Baltimore.

Johns Hopkins' Holden Cattoni and Maryland's Isaiah Davis-Allen have differing views on the Big Ten Conference men's lacrosse tournament.

For Cattoni, the tourney revives pleasant memories of the Blue Jays' 2015 run that included a share of the regular-season championship, the tournament crown and a march to the NCAA tournament semifinals.

"I just remember that's when we really started to come together as a team and we really started to ride the win streak that we had," the senior midfielder recalled. "… It all clicked for us. We had some difficulties in the beginning of the season, but that's when it all came together for our team."

For Davis-Allen, the Big Ten tournament is a reminder of a stunning loss to Ohio State in the semifinals. Although the Terps eventually advanced to the NCAA title game, the 9-6 setback to the Buckeyes is still somewhat fresh.

"Our team was disappointed last year with the loss," the junior short-stick defensive midfielder said. "We definitely want to come back and prove to people that we're good enough to put a string of wins together."

The Big Ten tournament opens Thursday with a pair of semifinal games at Homewood Field in Baltimore. By virtue of a 5-0 league record, Maryland (12-2) is the top seed and will clash with No. 4 seed Penn State (8-6 overall and 2-3 in the conference) at 5:30 p.m.

Johns Hopkins (8-5, 3-2) is the No. 3 seed and will tangle with No. 2 seed Rutgers (10-4, 3-2) at 8 p.m. The winners in the semifinals will meet in Saturday's title game at 6 p.m.

The Terps are the hottest team entering the Big Ten tournament. They have won 11 games in a row — the second-longest active streak in Division I behind No. 12 Air Force's 13-game spurt — and own the No. 1 Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), according to the NCAA's most recent figures.

But would another setback in the conference tournament leave Maryland, which captured the regular-season crown outright, feeling empty?

"I don't know," coach John Tillman said. "I think right now, we just know how good the league is. So to get the regular-season championship and beat all of our opponents is something that we feel like is really hard. It's not easy to do. So we feel very fortunate."

So far, being the No. 1 seed in conference tournaments has not translated into titles. Both North Carolina and Navy, the top seeds in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Patriot League postseasons, respectively, fell in the semifinals. Syracuse, the No. 4 seed in the ACC, and Loyola Maryland, the No. 2 seed in the Patriot League, captured those tournament championships and locked up berths in the 18-team NCAA tournament.

That trend might seem encouraging to the Blue Jays, Rutgers and Penn State, but Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said no one is viewing a contest with Maryland as a picnic.

"Maryland clearly has earned the top seed," he said. "They've been the most consistent and the best team throughout the conference schedule, and Rutgers has been the next most consistent. You look at it, and you just go, 'OK, there are two teams that have played very well and are at the top, and two other teams that have had their moments.' And now that you're back in it, you've got a chance to take a swing at this."

If there is one thing the Blue Jays have the other three teams don't, it's the familiarity of defeating a pair of opponents in a span of three days as they did last spring. Cattoni said that experience could be a significant factor.

"We've been there before," he said. "Although it is an advantage having that experience in the atmosphere of the Thursday game, it'll play more into our hands if we do move forward into the Saturday game and playing those games so close together, almost back-to-back with just a day to prep in between. I think that's when the experience will help us a little bit more."

Although the Terps defeated Penn State in University Park, Pa., on April 10, they had to play 60 minutes and then an additional 3 minutes, 17 seconds before senior midfielder Bryan Cole sent them home with an 11-10 victory. The triumph was win No. 7 in the team's current run, but Davis-Allen said he and his teammates are not resting on that winning streak.

"We're pretty confident, but not cocky," he said. "I think for us, Penn State played so well last time that it makes our team a little bit nervous. But the guys still have that hunger and that edge. Even though we beat Penn State, it didn't feel like a win because Penn State won 45 out of those 60 minutes. … It's going to take a large effort for us to win. Penn State is a great team."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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An earlier version of this story had Penn State's overall record incorrect. The Nittany Lions are 8-6 overall.

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