Penn State wasn’t itself on Senior Day.
For 59 minutes it was a back-and-forth affair. It felt like the Nittany Lions might give away the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed on the regular season’s final weekend in a matchup against No. 20 Rutgers.
Then Jack Kelly got the ball on his stick with 40 seconds left on a feed from Grant Ament. Kelly turned and scored to give the Nittany Lions a 14-13 win.
00:40 4Q | GRANT AMENT FINDS JACK KELLY FOR THE GO-AHEAD!!!! Up 14-13 pic.twitter.com/dP1vfC7e7t— Penn State Mens Lacrosse (@PennStateMLAX) April 27, 2019
After flying out to an early three-goal lead, the top-ranked Nittany Lions (12-1, 5-0 Big Ten) looked uncharacteristically ordinary the rest of Saturday afternoon.
Some bad turnovers, a Rutgers (7-7, 2-3 Big Ten) goalie that was in the grove, and a good defensive gameplan frustrated the Nittany Lions much of the afternoon. Head coach Jeff Tambroni and his staff are going to have to work on facing these same Scarlet Knights on Thursday in the Big Ten semifinals.
Good tape for opponents
With Penn State scoring 14 goals this is going to feel like a moral victory for defensive coaches, but it’s a depressing reality for everyone not wearing blue and white.
If nothing else, Rutgers showed the rest of the country a blueprint for slowing down this Penn State offense. Sure, with 14 goals the Nittany Lions still had a good day on offense for literally any other team’s standards, but the seemingly unstoppable machine that is averaging 17.5 goals per game, nearly two more goals than the nation’s second best offense, had found its defensive match.
Whether or not this was just a one game anomaly that is quickly forgotten, or is a legitimate blueprint for slowing down Penn State will be determined on Thursday in the rematch. Rutgers was physical and up in all of Penn State’s offensive players faces all day long. Aside from leaving Mac O’Keefe wide open to release his trademark low-to-high missiles it felt like the Scarlet Knights did pretty much everything right.
It frustrated them into uncharacteristic mistakes and is undoubtedly something Penn State will spend time on this week. The Nittany Lions are national title favorites with a target on their back. It won’t be going away at this point until they are eliminated or lifting a trophy in Philadelphia on Memorial Day.
Ament back to his usual self
A week ago Johns Hopkins didn’t slide to Ament much trying to take away passing opportunities for the country’s best distributor. While he still had a four goal and three assist day against the Blue Jays, it wasn’t his usual contribution.
On Saturday against the Scarlet Knights, Ament had a trademark seven assist, zero goal day and kept the offense moving in a way no one else could. Finding O’Keefe seemingly every time he had space to work with and crucially finding Kelly on the edge of the crease to win the game.
The Big Ten Tournament.
Penn State will be back in action on Thursday and will rematch Rutgers at 5 or 7:30 p.m. in Piscataway and the game will be shown on the Big Ten Network.