Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse overwhelms No. 12 Penn State, 13-6

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Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
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In a classic example of the chicken-or-the-egg argument, Connor DeSimone and Jack Lyne took turns praising the other’s unit in the aftermath of the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team’s 13-6 thumping of No. 12 Penn State in a Big Ten tilt Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve got some great leaders down on that side of the ball, and they did an incredible job of organizing everyone,” DeSimone, a senior attackman, said of the defense. “When they do their job and we do ours, good things happen.”

Countered Lyne, a redshirt senior defenseman: “I think we were doing our jobs when they came down, but I think that was because we were rested and we were able to communicate and get organized. I give credit to the offense because when we’re rested and we have our breath and we can get seven voices going on defense, we can be pretty good.”

Their comments illustrated the thoroughness by which the host Blue Jays handled the Nittany Lions before an announced attendance of 300 family members of players on both sides at Homewood Field in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins overcame an early 2-0 deficit by scoring 13 of the next 14 goals, racked up seven unanswered goals in the third quarter, and set the pace and tone for much of the game to improve to 2-2 overall and in the Big Ten.

How convincing were the Blue Jays? They did not surrender a shot in the third quarter, the first time they had not allowed an opponent an attempt in a quarter since March 2, 2012 against Princeton. They won 10 straight faceoffs spanning the second and third quarters, chasing off two-time All-American third-team faceoff specialist Gerard Arceri. And they enjoyed their most lopsided victory against Penn State since a 19-4 rout on May 11, 1946, ending a three-game skid in their all-time series.

The display was a refreshing change from last Saturday’s 18-10 loss at No. 3 Maryland.

“I wouldn’t say that we played a full 60 minutes, but it was the closest we’ve been so far by a lot,” Johns Hopkins coach Peter Milliman said. “Last week was so up and down that just to see the guys keep the right focus and scrap throughout, that was more rewarding than anything.”

After getting swamped, 8-0, in the third quarter of that setback to the Terps, the Blue Jays exacted a little misplaced revenge with a 7-0 run in the third quarter against the Nittany Lions, turning a 6-3 lead at halftime into a 13-3 advantage to put the Homewood faithful at ease.

The offense exhibited extreme patience, working possessions down to the final 20 seconds before testing Penn State graduate student goalkeeper Colby Kneese (a game-high 13 saves). And even when Kneese and his teammates made stops, Johns Hopkins either collected rebounds to maintain possessions or forced the defense into committing some of the Nittany Lions’ game-worst 20 turnovers or failing on 4-of-20 clears.

By Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni’s count, his offense had one settled six-on-six possession and one fastbreak in that pivotal third quarter.

“Pretty much every little thing we could have done to either hurt ourselves or for them to take advantage of, they did or it happened,” he said. “You could just feel the air coming out of it at that point when we went down 7-0 in that quarter with zero shots. That’s not a formula for success against anyone in the country, let alone a team like Johns Hopkins.”

DeSimone led all scorers with five points on four goals and one assist, junior attackman Joey Epstein added four points on two goals and two assists, and graduate student midfielder Cole Williams and junior midfielder Garrett Degnon scored two goals each. But DeSimone praised the faceoff unit of junior Matt Narewski (12-of-21 with five ground balls), junior short-stick defensive midfielder Alexander Mabbett (four ground balls and one goal) and senior long-stick midfielder Conner Delaney (three ground balls and two assists).

“Once this offense gets going and we have possession of the ball, it gives our defense a little bit of a break,” said. “Our offense can get into a rhythm, the midfielders start to dodge a little harder and get more comfortable with their sticks. It was really special seeing the guys play so special on those ground balls, and all the credit goes to that faceoff unit.”

Junior midfielder TJ Malone paced Penn State (1-3) with four points on two goals and two assists, and graduate student Mac O’Keefe scored twice, reaching 199 goals for his career. But he scored only once in a six-on-six set (his other goal occurred in transition) against Lyne and his defensive teammates.

“He’s a very good player,” Lyne said of O’Keefe. “That’s all we did in practice, we scouted him pretty hard. We knew that he was kind of their guy, the one they were going to look off-ball. So it really wasn’t an individual effort more so than a team effort. They run a lot of good schemes and a lot of things to get him open for shots, and it was everybody doing their jobs and looking for him.”

Whether the Blue Jays can sustain Saturday’s dominance remains to be seen, especially with No. 4 Rutgers visiting Homewood Field on Saturday for a 1 p.m. faceoff. Milliman is eager to see how the players absorb the success.

“Hopefully, it’s something we can build a little bit of momentum, but there are so many things that are building blocks right now, and every win is a big piece, knowing that we can compete with some good teams if we’re willing to play hard enough,” he said. “It’s not just Xs and Os. I think this is the hardest we’ve played so far, and that had a big impact on the outcome of the game. So hopefully, we can build on it in some degree.”

NO. 4 RUTGERS@JOHNS HOPKINS

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Streaming: ESPN3