The No. 3 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team is moving on to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament after taking down Loyola Maryland 7-4 in Ohio Stadium on Sunday.
The Buckeyes (14-4) failed to score at least nine goals for the first time since April 2, but freshman midfielder Tre Leclaire’s three goals were enough to lift OSU past the Greyhounds (10-6). Redshirt senior goalie Tom Carey made 12 saves on 16 shots on goal.
Down the stretch, Loyola put the pressure on a Buckeye defense that allowed double-digit goals in both Big Ten tournament games last weekend. However, Carey and the rest of the defense held their own in the final 15 minutes despite being outshot 9-2.
“Just really proud we’ve proven that we can win in different ways,” said OSU coach Nick Myers. “I think today is an example where we say, ‘OK, today is not our day offensively.’ Kind of a message to those guys down the stretch was let us win this game defensively. Get down there, be strong with the ball.”
It took nearly seven minutes for either team to get on the scoreboard. Unsurprisingly, Leclaire — the team’s leading scorer and Big Ten Freshman of the Year — was the first to strike with 8:09 remaining on the clock. It was his 42nd of the year.
Later, sophomore midfielder Logan Maccani made a move toward the goal from behind the net and found junior attackman Colin Chell in the middle of the defense for a one-timer to give the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead before the end of the first.
In the second quarter, Loyola put immense pressure on the Buckeye attackman, leading to 11 turnovers from the Scarlet and Gray, and the Greyhounds cranked up the offense as well.
They had eight shots on goal in the second quarter compared to three in the first, but only found the back of the net twice as Carey made six saves in the quarter.
After trimming the deficit to 3-2, the Greyhounds had an opportunity to tie the game before the half, but Carey made a point-blank save to preserve the lead.
“It definitely helps to get a few (big saves) early,” Carey said. “But the defense in front of me played really well and we gave up the shots we wanted to early.
A slow-paced first half turned into an intense battle that showcased the teams best players in the third quarter as both sides showed a sense of urgency out of the break.
Senior attackman Eric Fannell tallied his 29th goal of the year in the first three minutes of the quarter before Patriot League Player of the Year, and national player of the year finalist, Pat Spencer finally put one past Carey from 6 yards out for this 28th of the season.
Leading by a mere goal on two difference occasions, Leclaire seized the opportunities he was given and gave OSU a two-goal cushion at 5-3 and 6-4, which was a margin that was more comfortable that it appeared on the jumbotron in the south end zone.
“There were certainly some moments where we felt like we needed to just hunker down and get the next goal,” Myers said. “When we got that two goal lead, I thought that was big.”
OSU’s best player through the entire season proved his worth in his first NCAA tournament game with a hat trick following a nine-goal performance in two games last weekend in the conference tournament.
“(Getting the hat trick) was a surreal moment,” Leclaire said. “It was a fun game to play in. A lot of credit to our defense for that, backing us up.”
With 12 seconds left, sophomore attackman Jack Jasinski scored his first of the game and removed any doubt of who would advance to play Duke in the quarterfinals next Saturday.
The Buckeyes’ offense has carried them to this point, but confidence is riding high with the squad after a convincing showing on defense. Spencer had six shots toward the net, but only one went past Carey. Junior defenseman Ben Randall, who primarily defended Spencer, was a key cog in the wall around the OSU net.
“Defensively, I wanted to take away his vision and force him to go to the cage, which I think we did a good job of,” Randall said.
After allowing 23 goals in two games last weekend in the conference tournament, the Buckeyes defense took the steps it needed for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
“I think the guys, coming out of the Big Ten tournament, they were a bit disappointed defensively,” Myers said. “This week it was back to basics on that end of the field and I just felt like we just had a really good week of practice. And felt like today was a result of that hard work we put in this week.”