The No. 14 Buckeyes travel to State College, Pennsylvania, to meet the No. 11 Nittany Lions for a Big Ten showdown Sunday.
The Ohio State men’s lacrosse team’s (5-4, 1-0 Big Ten) 11-7 win against Rutgers in its Big Ten opener Sunday was the Buckeyes’ second victory in the last three games, while Penn State has come up short in its previous two.
“It’s great to get out of the gates and get the first one,” head coach Nick Myers said. “I think [the conference is] as deep, and probably as competitive, as it’s been since the formation.”
The Nittany Lions (5-3, 0-1 Big Ten) are led by graduate attackman TJ Malone who has 34 points, including three hat tricks, in eight games this season.
Penn State has won three-consecutive games against top-10 teams, while Ohio State has lost three straight against top-10 opponents.
“You’ve moved now into your second challenge, which is a really good Penn State team,” Myers said. “They’ve played well all year long. They’ve got some really good wins.”
Both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions faced Cornell, and Penn State defeated the then-No. 3 Big Red 10-6 with a fourth-quarter shutout, while Ohio State rallied from a 9-1 halftime deficit to fall 16-13 in Columbus.
Myers said the Nittany Lions are well-balanced, while the Buckeyes are still finding that edge.
“Offensively, defensively, certainly coach [Jeff] Tambroni does an outstanding job,” Myers said. “They’re playing really hard.”
Myers said the Buckeyes’ game versus Rutgers last week sparked a step in the right direction: all sides of the ball playing as a unit. He said the defense has recently taken steps towards looking like a team.
Against the Scarlet Knights, senior defenseman Marcus Hudgins forced two turnovers and picked up a team-high five ground balls. Defensemen sophomore Bobby Van Buren and senior Justin Sherrer each forced a turnover.
Senior goalkeeper Skylar Wahlund saved a career-high 70.8 percent of shots, earning him Big Ten Specialist of the Week honors Tuesday.
“When your goalie is seeing the ball and making saves, the way [Wahlund] has been seeing it lately, that goes a long way to building confidence,” Myers said.
Senior attackman Colby Smith has also contributed to finding confidence for the Buckeyes.
Smith has scored nine goals in the last three games, which could be a factor in finding an offensive rhythm against Penn State’s defense, which Myers called “aggressive.”
Myers said Penn State’s ability to cause turnovers was an area that jumped out to him on film. Though they suffered two recent losses, the Nittany Lions still caused 13 takeaways over the stretch.
The Buckeyes will have the opportunity to keep the Creator’s Trophy in Columbus, an annual award that goes to the team with the best head-to-head record between Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
Last season, Ohio State defeated Penn State for the first time since 2015 — the last time the Buckeyes won the Creator’s Trophy.
“We were certainly elated to be able to get it done and bring it back to Columbus last year,” Myers said. “I know our men are excited to fight for it.”
Faceoff is set for noon Sunday at Panzer Stadium and will be televised on ESPNU.
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