UNIVERSITY PARK — Last time out, Penn State allowed no goals in regulation and overtime, but still failed to advance in the conference tournament after penalty kicks put Indiana through.
The Nittany Lions played just as strong Thursday night, but this time their offense made sure penalty kicks were not needed. Eli Dennis’ first-half goal was enough as Penn State beat St. Francis Brooklyn in its NCAA Tournament opener 1-0.
The Nittany Lions (12-5-2) advance to play at 10th-seeded University of California Santa Barbara at 9 p.m. Sunday. The Gauchos (12-5-3) received a first round bye.
Thursday’s matchup started out slow, in terms of offense. Each defense opened well, keeping the contest scoreless on only three saves in the first 25 minutes.
The Nittany Lions finally saw a huge opportunity in the 37th minute and did not waste it.
Drew Klingenberg had the ball on the left side and sent a cross to the center of the 18-yard box. It fell right in front of Dennis and the redshirt junior kept his shot underneath the crossbar from almost point blank range for his fourth goal of the season.
“Every time I see Eli open, I know there’s a good combination play ready to be done,” Klingenberg said.
Each side played rather evenly in the first half, both hitting the target with three shots.
The Nittany Lions’ total did not budge, while the Terriers (12-6-1) only put one more shot on target in the second half, as both teams narrowly missed a few more chances. Each team finished with 10 total shots.
In the 58th minute, Terriers’ forward Kevin Correa, who entered the game with 13 goals, nearly added to his team-leading total. The junior took a free kick from well beyond the 18-yard box and bent it left, ricocheting off the left post and out of bounds.
It was an attempt that was not expected.
“Even after it after it hit off the post, I was still like, ‘That’s just an unbelievable free kick,’” Nittany Lion coach Bob Warming said. “It was so far out that our guys were all over, kind of playing like they might cross it, because they pulled everybody away.
“The kid bent it so far around the near-post side of the wall, it was unbelievable. He’s super talented.”
The Terriers had several more looks near or inside the box, but could not convert.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions could not extend their lead. Jordan Tyler had perhaps the team’s best chance to do so, about 15 minutes into the second half. With Terriers goalkeeper Jack Binks out of the net, Tyler poked a shot toward the right post, but it went wide.
Penn State keeper Andrew Wolverton made four saves in his seventh shutout of the season. Binks had two. Penn State had a 5-1 edge in corner kicks.
Klingenberg said the Nittany Lions can play better, though he was still happy with the outcome.
“It’s a great result. We came away with a 1-0 win, and it could have been more,” Klingenberg said. “I think deep down, I wish it would’ve been. ...We could have done a little more, but they came out and it’s the NCAA Tournament. They wanted to win, too.”