With the Maryland men's lacrosse team struggling to overtake then-No. 15 Penn State on Sunday, midfielder Connor Kelly quickly buried his disappointing showing from the previous weekend to lead a comeback.
His fifth conversion of the day leveled the score at 10, prompting him to nod his head before celebrating his fourth-quarter finish. He struck for a career-high sixth time later in the period to help seal a 13-12 win for the No. 1 Terps.
After failing to find the back of the net against Michigan on March 31, Kelly reached the level of play he'll need to continue for the Terps to make a deep postseason run. He's the team's de facto star following the departures of attackmen Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock.
"Last week wasn't his best shooting week," Tillman said. "He deferred and made plays and got everyone else involved. This week he came back and had a little bit more of a scoring role. For us to be good, it has to be that way."
Kelly shot 0-for-9 against Michigan, an uncharacteristic display for a player who leads Maryland in goals (28) and assists (24). Coaches felt he held the ball too long at times. They wanted him to rapidly dodge defenders and pass if there wasn't a clear scoring chance.
He returned to those basics against the Nittany Lions, taking control of an offense that seemed to get better as the game progressed. Four of his seven points came in the second half.
"We're trying to find our chemistry and we found that tonight," Kelly said. "We did a nice job with the number of possessions we had."
Kelly tied the game at eight with about five minutes remaining in the third and guided the attack in the fourth. His final goal came minutes after Penn State attackman Mac O'Keefe found the net to make it a 12-11 contest.
Even with the outburst, the Terps trailed the Nittany Lions for longer than they were behind in their first nine games combined. They entered the intermission with a deficit for the first time this season. Kelly said the squad anticipated Penn State would be the best team it faced all year, and the Nittany Lions lived up to that expectation.
So it was crucial Kelly went 6-for-8 shooting after his dud against the Wolverines.
The senior's rebound bodes well for Maryland, which carries a No. 1 ranking into Sunday's contest against Rutgers as it seeks its second straight title.
"It has to be somebody different every week," Tillman said. "For Connor, if he's drawing a lot of attention, [he has to] defer. If he can get a hand free, we love that too."