PISCATAWAY, NJ – Mac O’Keefe scored his sixth goal of the game 25 seconds into overtime to lift top-ranked Penn State to an 18-17 win over 15th-ranked Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Men’s Lacrosse Championship game at Rutgers Saturday night. The title is the first for the Nittany Lions, who are now 14-1 on the year. Johns Hopkins slips to 8-7.
Penn State earns the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament with the victory; Johns Hopkins will learn its NCAA fate when the bracket for the tournament is announced on Sunday, May 5 at 9 pm (ESPNU).
Penn State won the opening faceoff in overtime and worked the ball to TJ Malone, who curled around from behind the goal and got top side before skipping a pass to O’Keefe, who had time and room to step in and pick the far post for the game-winner.
That the game even got to overtime was stunning as the Blue Jays trailed 17-15 with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter before freshman Joey Epstein scored twice in an 11-second span to tie the game at 17. After the second of those goals, the Blue Jays won the ensuing faceoff and had a chance to win on a fastbreak, but Matt Hubler’s shot was stopped by Colby Kneese to force the extra session, where O’Keefe ended things quickly.
Johns Hopkins led 11-8 at the half, only to have the high-scoring Nittany Lions grab a 13-11 lead with a five-goal run to open the second half that took exactly five minutes. From there, the teams traded the next eight goals with Hopkins pulling within one on four different occasions, only to have the ‘Lions answer each time to go back up by two.
Penn State led 17-15 after Dylan Foulds scored with exactly five minutes on the fourth-quarter clock and appeared to have the game sealed when Kneese stopped a Brett Baskin offering with 1:41 left in regulation.
Jack Rapine forced a Penn State turnover with 58 seconds on the clock and the Blue Jays turned that into the back-to-back Epstein goals, which came with 34 and 23 seconds remaining in regulation. Hubler’s shot came 13 seconds after the second of those two Epstein strikes and Penn State nearly won it in the final seconds after a length-of-the-field toss and scramble in front of the Blue Jay goal nearly ended it before overtime.
Johns Hopkins had grabbed the 11-8 halftime lead on the strength of a five-goal run of its own that turned an early 4-1 deficit into a 6-4 lead. Five different Blue Jays scored during the spree, which was followed by ties at 6-6, 7-7, and 8-8 before a three-goal run to end the half gave Hopkins the 11-8 lead. Forry Smith scored twice and Epstein added one to fuel the three-goal surge.
Penn State’s second-half-opening five-goal run included two of O’Keefe’s six goals on the night. The Nittany Lions would never trail again after the run, but they couldn’t quite put the Blue Jays away either – that is, until O’Keefe sealed his tournament MVP award with his sixth and final goal early in overtime.
Epstein’s seven goals are the most by a Johns Hopkins player since Ryan Brown had eight in a 15-12 win at Maryland on April 25, 2015, while his nine points are the most by a Blue Jay since Kyle Marr had nine against Michigan on April 23, 2017.
Smith added three goals and one assist and Cole Williams chipped in two goals and one assist for the Blue Jays, who had 10 players register multi-point games. Freshman Matt Nareweski won 16-of-29 faceoffs and grabbed eight ground balls for Johns Hopkins, which went 6-for-6 on extra-man and held a 47-39 advantage in shots.
O’Keefe led Penn State with his six-goal, two-assist effort, while Grant Ament added two goals and four assists.
Notes: Epstein broke the Johns Hopkins single-season record for points by a freshman as his nine-point showing gives him 67 points on the year (45g, 22a) – the previous record of 61 was set by Brian Piccola in 1992 • Willims went over 100 points for his career with his two goals and one assist (102 points) • This was the first B1G title-game loss for the Blue Jays, who had won the championship in their two other appearances in the final (2015, 2018) • Epstein, Williams and Patrick Foley were all named to the All-Tournament Team.