March 28, 2016
Penn State knocked off top-ranked Denver on Saturday, and coach Jeff Tambroni was happy to see smiles from the Nittany Lions. (Ray Carlin)
Penn State knocked off top-ranked Denver on Saturday, and coach Jeff Tambroni was happy to see smiles from the Nittany Lions. (Ray Carlin)

Weekend Takeaways: Penn State's Big Step Forward

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Teams always need a little time to savor a victory. Penn State might have gotten more than it bargained for Saturday and Sunday.

The Nittany Lions secured an impressive 15-10 triumph in Dallas over defending national champion Denver, ending the Pioneers' 20-game winning streak. But the day was only just beginning for Jeff Tambroni's team.

Penn State's connecting flight in Atlanta was delayed, and the Nittany Lions didn't take off from there until around midnight. But if only it was that simple. Penn State flew into Baltimore, and had a bus ride of more than three hours back to Happy Valley. The team finally arrived back on campus at 6 a.m. Sunday.

On the bright side: It was a lot easier to deal with such travel headaches after quality a victory, one that could pay dividends for the Nittany Lions down the road if they can achieve some consistency in the second half of the season.

And, as Tambroni said after the game, the win also was a positive moment to point to as the team still deals with the offseason death of starting goalie Connor Darcey.

1. Penn State got a great victory, but plenty of work remains

The immediate instinct is to think Penn State's defeat of Denver might prove a season-turning event for the Nittany Lions. Maybe one that could galvanize a program looking to gain traction after a couple uneven years.

Tambroni, though, offered some caution. His team has won at Cornell and edged Harvard in overtime. It also got drilled by Villanova, scored two goals in its first three quarters against Penn and lost at home to Massachusetts.

So defeating Bill Tierney's Pioneers could make a massive difference ... or it might not.

"I don't know yet," Tambroni said late Saturday during his team's layover in Atlanta. "So much of the season has yet to be played out. I think it's important for our program — coaches and players — to make sure we keep this thing in perspective. If we start getting too far and looking at the impact of what it can do, you get away from the day-to-day details."

Penn State (6-3) got back to those details in the wake of an 11-9 loss to Massachusetts. And take out a few minutes in the first quarter and some garbage-time in the fourth quarter, it didn't relent.

"We felt we needed to preach all week that this is going to require 60 minutes of your greatest attention to detail just because of our respect for Denver and how potent they are offensively and how capable they are defensively," Tambroni said.

It also took a few performances the Nittany Lions were, quite frankly, not receiving for much of this season. Faceoff man Billy Lombardi won 13 of the 28 draws, which is right around his showing for the year but perfectly decent against Denver ace Trevor Baptiste. More importantly, Lombardi claimed all six faceoffs in the third quarter as Penn State stretched an 8-6 halftime edge to 12-7.

There were also hat tricks for Ryan Keenan and Dan Craig, who had combined for 11 goals in the Nittany Lions' first eight games.

Keenan was actually one of Penn State's more consistent players prior to Saturday, even if his numbers didn't suggest it. But Craig was a breakout candidate as a junior and hadn't quite delivered on his promise until the Nittany Lions' trip to the Lone Star State.

In some ways, Craig perfectly encapsulated Penn State's week. Tambroni said the midfielder was especially dialed in during practice and provided a lift both with his goals and emotional presence in the middle of the game.

But will it last? That's a fair question for Craig, Keenan, Lombardi and the rest of the Nittany Lions. Tambroni acknowledged as much Saturday, knowing he'd witnessed a step forward for a team that showed it can play with anyone in the country but has also demonstrated a penchant for erratic play to date.

"If you lack that focus and hunger you can lose the following week to anybody, let alone a team the caliber of Ohio State," said Tambroni, referencing Penn State's opponent this Sunday. "You can go down that list of opponents. I think we have a lot of goals left with the Big Ten. One of them is to be more competitive in the league than we were last year."

And as he well knows, even one great victory provides no guarantees as the calendar turns to April.

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2. Virginia might have saved its season

It was nearly time to start wondering just what path Virginia had to finish with a .500 or better record and having a viable shot at an NCAA tournament. And while the Cavaliers (4-5) still have some work to do, it's easier to figure out how they can again reach the postseason after their 13-12 overtime defeat of Johns Hopkins on Sunday.

Not that Virginia nearly found itself at 3-6. The Cavaliers needed a Greg Coholan goal with 20 seconds left in regulation to force extra time, where Mike D'Amario scored 19 seconds into the period to secure Virginia its third consecutive regular-season defeat of the Blue Jays (4-3).

The Cavaliers' remaining schedule includes VMI, Richmond, North Carolina, Duke, Georgetown and either Brown or the ACC tournament. They'll need to find four wins in there somewhere to be eligible for the postseason, and Virginia's history against Duke needs no documentation. But it's not nearly as daunting as needing five victories in that stretch.

Maryland coach John Tillman with North Carolina's Joe Breschi on Saturday. Breschi wasn't pleased after a 10-turnover day by the Tar Heels.

3. North Carolina's offensive sloppiness is a concern

On the surface, a 10-turnover day wouldn't seem like a major issue for North Carolina in its 11-8 loss at Maryland. But seven of the giveaways occurred in the second half of a game that was played largely at the Terrapins' preferred patient pace.

"I thought we played hard," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "On defense, I thought we did a nice job against a very good offense. We just can't have unforced dropped passes at the offensive end, and we did that several times. We have to continue to pound away at that. We know who we are. We know our identity and what we need to do to put ourselves in position to win."

Maryland did a fine job of containing Chris Cloutier (one goal and one assist) and Luke Goldstock (one assist), surviving several long North Carolina possessions without incurring much harm. But as well as the Terrapins fared, the Tar Heels (5-5) played a role in their own demise in College Park.

4. Boston University continues to impress

While Army, Loyola and Navy are understandably considered prime Patriot League contenders at this stage, it would be unwise to overlook Boston University. The third-year program improved to 8-2 after edging Harvard and throttling Lafayette this week.

The Terriers (8-2, 3-1 Patriot), who have already matched their combined victory from their first two seasons, got four goals from James Burr in Saturday's 16-6 triumph at Lafayette. It's a team that checks a lot of boxes: Good goalie player (Christian Carson-Banister is stopping 56.4 percent of the shots he sees), superb work at the X (Sam Talkow is at 68.9 percent this year) and admirable balance (four 20-point scorers).

In the next three weeks, Boston U. will face Lehigh, Army and Loyola. That stretch should help sort out where the Terriers sit in the Patriot pecking order this season. But given the program's rapid growth under Ryan Polley, expect Boston U. to contend for a league title sooner rather than later — and maybe as early as next month.

5. Marquette extended its strong start — and Georgetown's miseries

Another year, another fine first half of the season for Marquette. The Golden Eagles (6-1) edged Georgetown 9-8 in their Big East opener as Ryan McNamara scored five goals.

Marquette was 8-1 in late March last season, only to drop five of its last seven to fade out of NCAA tournament contention. But the program is only in its fourth season, and it's reasonable to believe the cliché "a year older and a year wiser" might just apply to a program that lists 19 seniors/graduate students on its roster.

The Golden Eagles survived Saturday thanks to the latest excruciating development for Georgetown (1-8, 0-1). The Hoyas' Chris Donovan appeared to tie it with eight seconds left in regulation, but the goal was disallowed because of a shot clock violation.

Five Stars

Deemer Class, Duke: Dropped seven goals and two assists on Syracuse as the Blue Devils edged the Orange 16-15. In two career games against Syracuse at home, Class has 13 goals and six assists.

Connor Fields, Albany: Matched his career-high with seven goals and added an assist as Albany (5-2, 2-0 America East) handled Hartford 13-9.

Brady Dove, Navy: The faceoff specialist won 14 of 19 draws to help the Midshipmen dominate possession in a 12-7 defeat of Lehigh. Navy (6-2, 4-1 Patriot) has won four in a row for the first time since 2012.

Devin McNamara, Villanova: Had four goals and two assists as the Wildcats (6-1) thumped Fairfield 15-9.

Jacob Stover, Loyola: Making his second career start, the freshman stopped 12 shots while allowing only one goal as the Greyhounds crushed Bucknell 14-3.

Deemer Class scored seven goals and had two assists in Duke's 16-15 overtime win against Syracuse on Saturday.

Game of the Weekend

Duke 16, Syracuse 15 (OT)

Two teams with exceptional offensive identities produced one of the most entertaining games of the season to date, with the Blue Devils (7-4, 1-0 ACC) bouncing back from an overtime loss to Air Force on Tuesday to edge the Orange (5-2, 1-1). Syracuse led by five at halftime and four after three quarters, but Duke rattled off the next five goals before Derek DeJoe tied it at 15 with 3:29 to go. Blue Devils faceoff ace Kyle Rowe won the overtime draw, and Jack Bruckner found Chad Cohan in front of the goal for the game-winner 53 seconds into the extra session.

Numbers of Significance

0

Division I men's programs playing full schedules without a victory this season. Both Holy Cross (10-6 over Jacksonville) and Furman (18-5 over VMI) got in the win column for the first time this year with triumphs on Saturday.

2

Career hat tricks for Maryland sophomore midfielder Connor Kelly, both against North Carolina. Kelly, who had three goals against the Tar Heels in last year's NCAA quarterfinals, produced three goals and three assists in Saturday's 11-8 triumph for the Terrapins (5-2).

13

Victories without a loss in Northeast Conference regular season play for Saint Joseph's since it joined the league in 2014. The Hawks (6-2, 1-0) opened their league schedule Saturday with a 13-5 rout of Hobart.

27

Years since Penn defeated both Cornell and Princeton in the same season. The Quakers (5-2, 2-0 Ivy) knocked off Cornell 9-6 Saturday thanks to a six-goal flurry to begin the game. That came a week after Penn demolishing Princeton, giving it triumphs over both traditional Ivy powers for the first time since 1989.

Quote of the Week

"As a group I've never been more proud of a group of guys. To be down by five goals against Syracuse — a team that's having a great year so far — and to come from behind and keep playing and playing together. I've never been more proud of a group in my career."

— Duke coach John Danowski after the Blue Devils' 16-15 overtime defeat of Syracuse

How the Nike/LM Top 20 Fared

1. Denver (7-1): Lost to Penn State 15-10; next: at Georgetown (Saturday)
2. Notre Dame (6-1): Beat Ohio State 9-8; next: at Syracuse (Saturday)
3. Yale (7-0): Beat Princeton 11-10; next: Penn (Saturday)
4. Brown (6-0): Idle; next: at Villanova (Tuesday)
5. Johns Hopkins (4-3): Lost at Virginia 13-12 (OT); next: at UMBC (Wednesday)
6. Syracuse (5-2): Lost at Duke 16-15 (OT)); next: Notre Dame (Saturday)
7. Maryland (5-2): Beat North Carolina 11-8; next: at Penn (Tuesday)
8. Villanova (6-1): Beat Fairfield 15-9; next: Brown (Tuesday)
9. Duke (7-4): Lost to Air Force 10-9 (OT); beat Syracuse 16-15 (OT); next: North Carolina (Friday)
10. Towson (8-1): Beat Binghamton 15-6; next: Drexel (Saturday)
11. Albany (5-2): Beat Hartford 13-9; next: Harvard (Wednesday)
12. North Carolina (5-4): Lost at Maryland 11-8; next: at Duke (Friday)
13. Navy (6-2): Beat Lafayette 11-4; beat Lehigh 12-7; next: Holy Cross (Saturday)
14. Loyola (6-3): Beat Georgetown 10-7; beat Bucknell 14-3; next: at Colgate (Sunday)
15. Stony Brook (6-2): Beat UMBC 14-11; next: at Lehigh (Tuesday)
16. Harvard (5-4): Lost to Boston University 9-8; beat Dartmouth 18-8; next: at Albany (Wednesday)
17. Bucknell (5-4): Lost at Loyola 14-3; next: at Army (Saturday)
18. Massachusetts (4-4): Idle; next: at Delaware (Saturday)
19. Richmond (7-2): Beat High Point 7-3; next: Virginia (Saturday)
20. Boston University (8-2): Beat Harvard 9-8; beat Lafayette 16-6; next: Lehigh (Saturday)

Five to Watch This Week

Maryland at Penn (4 p.m. Tuesday): The host Quakers (5-2) begin a tough three-game stretch that also includes Ivy League games against unbeaten Yale and Brown. Meanwhile, the Terrapins (5-2) will look to run their winning streak to five before diving into Big Ten play next weekend.

Brown at Villanova (4 p.m. Tuesday): Looking for an advertisement for the sport? This midweek tussle will do quite nicely. The visiting Bears (6-0) haven't played in more than a week, and they bring their entertaining style to the Main Line to take on a Villanova bunch galvanized by the addition of Princeton transfer Jake Froccaro. One thing's for sure: Lots and lots of goals will be scored.

North Carolina at Duke (6 p.m. Friday, ESPNU): The visiting Tar Heels (5-4) open conference play with the short trip up Route 15-501 to Durham, where the Blue Devils already own an ACC victory. North Carolina can hang its hat on a victory at Johns Hopkins in late February, but it would be wise to do a bit more to secure its usual place at the postseason table.

Notre Dame at Syracuse (5 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU): The winners of the last two ACC tournaments meet in the Carrier Dome, with Notre Dame (6-1, 1-0) looking to bag a road victory for the second consecutive weekend. The Orange (5-2, 0-1) are coming off consecutive overtime losses but might provide the Irish's defense with its toughest test to date.

Penn State at Ohio State (Noon Sunday, ESPNU): This is the highlight of the opening weekend of Big Ten play as the Nittany Lions (6-3), fresh off their victory over Denver, heading to Columbus to meet the Buckeyes (5-5). Ohio State has dropped four in a row, including consecutive one-goal losses at home against Towson and Notre Dame.


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