In a conference matchup with postseason implications, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team had an opportunity to turn the page on its month-long losing streak.
But, despite late-game heroics, it couldn’t get it done.
The Wolverines (7-5 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) were unable to complete their comeback against Penn State (3-8, 1-2), losing 9-8. A second half surge led by sophomore midfielder Justin Brown put Michigan within striking distance of its first win since early March, but the Nittany Lions held on in overtime to hand the Wolverines their fifth-straight loss and end their hopes of hosting a tournament game.
“We kept talking all week about how to keep ‘climbing the mountain’ and not falling for the peaks and valleys,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “I’m proud of our guys and I think we did that. That’s what led to the fourth quarter comeback and the ability to get this to overtime, but we just couldn’t finish it.”
Penn State scored two goals in the first minute of play to put Michigan in an immediate hole — which it then spent the entire rest of the first half fighting to overcome. The offensive group consistently struggled to win one-on-one matchups and couldn’t find open shots, notching just eight shots on goal in the entire first half.
The Wolverines’ one bright spot of the period was Justin Brown, who scored both of his team’s first half goals and was the only player able to create separation against the Penn State defensive unit.
That first half performance, however, was dwarfed by a monster fourth period.
“We were expecting that,” Conry said. “He had a great week of practice. We knew coming off of the Maryland game that his ability to separate and free his hands was something that we were waiting for, and he came alive.”
After a 2-2 third quarter, his two quick goals injected life back into the Michigan offense, and the team came roaring back from an 8-4 deficit to tie the game with three minutes to play. The energy was contagious, as sophomore midfielder Isaac Aronson and junior attacker Josh Zawada notched goals to keep the Wolverines in the game.
Zawada was a key contributor to the comeback attempt. Though he finished with only one goal, it came at a crucial moment as time winded down to tie the score at eight. His three assists also came in the fourth quarter, setting up both Brown and Aronson on key goals down the stretch.
“Josh is Josh,” Conry said. “We expect so much of him. And sometimes every other team keys on him, so his life is really hard right now.”
On defense, Michigan put together its strongest performance since conference play began. Physicality, something the unit had sorely missed over the previous four games, was key in the comeback effort. The Wolverines forced 18 turnovers, consistently disrupting Penn State offensive sets as the game went on.
“I thought our guys did a great job of weathering the storm,” Conry said. “And then we started to chip away. This is a game of runs — they were able to go ahead and start theirs, then ours came a little bit later.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Shane Carr earned 11 saves in another solid performance, but the Nittany Lions’ final shot marked a bitter end to his night. The Maryland native hung his head and pointed to his chest as he walked off the field, evidently taking responsibility for the game-winner.
Michigan showed promise, but couldn’t quite climb past those early offensive struggles when it needed to — instead earning a fifth straight loss and moving one game closer to another last place finish in the Big Ten.
“We could’ve used a couple more guys to make a couple more goals,” Conry said. “You can’t win ball games by only scoring eight goals.”