Lacrosse: Smith’s second-half spree lifts No. 2 NU past No. 15 Penn State

Colin Becht

Shannon Smith had a rough first 45 minutes in Northwestern’s game against Penn State Friday night – or at least rough by her standards. She only had one point and no goals despite an abundance of shots, and even had a goal called back for stepping in the circle.

Then Smith took over and propelled a close fight at Lakeside Field into a 14-5 rout in the Wildcats’ favor.

The junior attacker scored three goals in just over two minutes to transform a precarious 7-5 NU advantage into a comfortable lead. Smith’s three goals were part of a larger 10-2 run for the Cats as they overcame a slow offensive start to pummel the Nittany Lions.

“We just talked at halftime that we wanted to be more aggressive,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We were delaying our dodges quite a bit and they were able to get their double teams there. Once we picked up the pace in the second half, it was hard for them to read what we were doing.”

After being stymied by double teams in the first half that limited her opportunities and left her unable to finish what limited opportunities she did manage to create, Smith took over the game, not needing an assist to create any of her three goals. She completed the trifecta by taking on four Penn State defenders, emerging through the pack to fire a shot past goaltender Dana Cahill.

“I got a little frustrated,” Smith said. “I was just kind of letting it all go. I just kind of took all of my frustration out on the field.”

Amonte Hiller said that Smith’s ability to overcome her earlier struggles demonstrated her true excellence.

“Everyone gets frustrated sometimes,” Amonte Hiller said. “But I think the sign of a great player is they come back within the same game, within the same moment and make a big play.”

Seven NU players got into the scoring column in the second half for NU, including two goals by freshman attacker Kara Mupo, who was named the ALC Rookie of the Week on Tuesday.

“She’s very poised,” Amonte Hiller said. “She really finishes her shots well.”

NU scored the final seven goals of the game after the Nittany Lions’ defense had managed to keep the game close earlier. However, Penn State simply couldn’t hang with NU for the entire 60 minutes and did not score in the final 20 and a half minutes.

While the offense struggled to find its groove in the first half, scoring just four goals, junior netminder Brianne LoManto preserved narrow NU leads with five saves. LoManto finished with an outstanding .615 save percentage and allowed a season-low five goals.

“Breezy came up with some saves, I don’t even know how she saved them,” Smith said.

In addition to LoManto’s saves, including rejections on 4-of-5 Penn State free position shots, the NU defense greatly contributed to the low goal total by hassling the Nittany Lions into poor shots and turnovers.

Of Penn State’s 22 shots, just 13 were on target. The Cats also caused 6 second-half turnovers, part of 16 total turnovers committed by the Nittany Lions for the game.

“We were crashing in the middle,” LoManto said. “We made a pact as a defense, ‘We need to hold them to less than six goals.’ We really came out there and executed it.”

Midfielder Maggie Dunbar finished with four points, but she was the only Penn State player with multiple points in the game.

The NU defense even filled in for the attackers in the first half as sophomore defender Taylor Thornton scored the first goal of the game after receiving a pass from Smith. Thornton added a second goal before the end of the first stanza on a free position shot.

Though 14 goals are well above Cahill’s 8.46 goals allowed average, the goaltender did everything she could to keep the Nittany Lions in the game, making 11 saves. Cahill also held NU to a 1-of-5 performance on free position shots.

The Cats have no time to relish in the victory as they take on rival No. 8 Penn on Sunday afternoon at home.

“We just need to refocus,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’ll go over the gameplan tomorrow and just really build on the momentum that we gained tonight.”

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