In Saturday’s NCAA semifinal between the No. 3 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team and Towson, defense will be the name of the game.
And if the early season matchup between these two teams is any indicator, it could be one of the lowest scoring games of the tournament.
When the Buckeyes traveled to Towson, Maryland, earlier this year to take on the Tigers, redshirt senior goalie Tom Carey made eight saves and allowed just three goals in a 6-3 OSU victory.
That emphasis on defense can be found in the NCAA leaderboards, where Towson can be found sitting at third for fewest goals allowed on average per game, sporting a miniscule 7.44 number. Of course, the Buckeyes haven’t been too shabby on defense either, sitting only six spots behind the Tigers, allowing just an average of 8.26 goals per game.
But for OSU to find success, they will need to head into the matchup with an aggressive game plan like the Buckeyes applied in their matchup against Duke. In that game, players like senior attackman Eric Fannell were able to bully their way through the defense to put shots on net from just outside the crease.
Part of Towson’s strength this season has been displaying an ability to box out and keep that opposing offense from getting in close. Despite ranking as one of the stingiest defenses for allowing goals this season, Towson’s goalies wound up averaging the fewest saves per game of any Division I goaltending unit in 2017.
However, when the Tigers need their goalie to step up, they have been able to count on consistently strong performances from senior goalie Matt Hoy, who has allowed just 15 goals, while saving 21 shots on goal in upset victories over No. 8 Penn State in the first round and No. 2 Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
Hoy did not begin the season as the starter, but has thrived in the role since taking over on April 1, posting a 7-1 record in games he started with only 6.99 goals against average and a .536 save percentage.
That defense of Towson will certainly be tested against a Buckeye offense that had little trouble putting up 16 goals against a team that at the time ranked fifth in fewest goals allowed on average.
The Buckeyes frequently found themselves in the front of the net, and were able to capitalize on nearly every opportunity, scoring on 51.6 percent of shots taken in the game. This ability to make the most of every shot has been a trend for the Scarlet and Gray this season as the team ranks eighth in shot percentage (.340).
But the biggest test for the Tigers could come in finding enough offense to win the game. Though they have put up 22 goals in their two games thus far in the NCAA tournament, their offense currently ranks 46th among all Division I schools, averaging only 9.50 goals per game this season.
While the Buckeyes will send out a pair of dynamic goal-scorers in freshman attackman Tre Leclaire – who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year with a team-best 45 goals – and Fannell (34 goals), the Tigers have only one 30-plus goal scorer on the season – senior attackman Joe Seider. Seider had shortcomings against top-20 defenses this season as he has averaged just one goal per game in five contests. Three of those five goals for Seider came in just one game, against the No. 14 defensive unit in Hofstra.
His team follows a similar trend of struggling against top-tier defensive teams, averaging just 7.8 goals per game and managing only a 2-3 record against such opponents.
OSU, on the other hand, does not appear to lose a step against top-20 defenses, averaging 11.22 goals per game — less than half a goal below their season average — in nine contests against the nation’s best defensive teams.
Given not only more experience against highly-ranked defensive units, but more success against them, the Buckeyes might appear to have a slight edge on paper. But the Tigers have overcome worse odds in the past, as evidenced by their wins over Penn State and Syracuse as the underdog on their way to their second-ever NCAA semifinal matchup.
And for this pair of dynamic defensive units, it could simply just come down to who can score the last goal.
The winner of the Towson-OSU game will face the winner of the matchup between No. 1 Maryland and No. 5 Denver on Monday at 1 p.m. in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.