May 10, 2013

Buckeyes Have Turned Corner, Look to Stay Red-Hot

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Ohio State leading scorer Logan Schuss is joined by fellow lefty Canadians Jesse King (above) and Turner Evans a potent Buckeyes' offense.
© Greg Wall

When Ohio State rolled through last week's ECAC tournament by dispatching Loyola and Denver to win the league and make its first NCAA tournament since 2008, the Buckeyes had that striking look of a team suddenly on the rise at the perfect time.

Upon second glance, though, Ohio State — which catapulted from a strong bubble team to a No. 3 seed with its automatic qualifier and hosts its first NCAA tournament game against Towson on Sunday — has been coming on steadily in recent years and has been on the cusp of something special for much of 2013.

"We felt we were close last year," said fifth-year coach Nick Myers, pointing to an 8-7 finish that included regular-season, 8-7 losses to Loyola and Notre Dame, before a one-goal loss to Fairfield in the ECAC semifinals ended the Buckeyes' season. "If we win those games against Loyola and Notre Dame, we were probably going to host a playoff game.

"I think the grind of playing in a great league like the ECAC forces you to play good, solid, disciplined lacrosse. You have to work hard at finishing each week."

Few teams have finished as well as the Buckeyes (12-3) have lately. Ohio State, which has lost only to Denver, Loyola and Notre Dame this year, has averaged 13.2 goals during its current, six-game winning streak. It hasn't lost since a 9-4 loss to Loyola on March 30. And it turned the tables dramatically on the Greyhounds a week ago.

The Buckeyes scored the last nine goals of the game, including an 8-0 romp in the fourth quarter that knocked out Loyola, 18-11. It was the most goals allowed by the Greyhounds since Duke blasted them in a 21-8 rout in March 2008. On Saturday, the third-seeded Buckeyes led Denver for most of an 11-10 victory to seal the ECAC.

"A month ago, we weren't the talk of anybody. We were worried about this win being good enough or that loss being a bad loss. We were just fighting to get into the ECAC tournament," said senior attackman Logan Schuss, the offensive leader and lead Canadian in an offense that features two other lefty Canucks in sophomores Turner Evans and Jesse King.

Here are some reasons the Buckeyes, who have matched a program high in wins, could be fighting their way to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, site of this year's final four on Memorial Day weekend.

Ohio State, which used to grind opponents in slower-tempo games, has developed into an explosive, unselfish offense behind Schuss (40 goals, 23 assists), King (26, 21) and Evans (24 goals). Freshman attackman Carter Brown (24, 14) is part of a large contingent of Baltimore, Md. products that have populated the Ohio State roster for quite some time.

The Buckeyes have matured remarkably on defense, where freshman Bobby Haus has solidified the close unit with juniors Joe Meurer and Dominic Imbordino in front of veteran goalie Greg Dutton. Ohio State has held 11 opponents to single digits.

Ohio State's faceoff game, which used to be near the bottom of the ECAC, has risen to the top, with a nice assist from first-year assistant coach Jamison Koesterer. Trey Wilkes and Kacy Kapinos have combined to win 57 percent of their draws, and they crushed Loyola in that eye-catching fourth quarter.

Lastly, the Buckeyes are extremely well-conditioned. In the second half of its 13 games, Ohio State has out-scored its opponents by a combined 90-51.

Delving deeper into Maryland-Cornell

No. 6 seed Maryland has reached the past two NCAA tournament finals as an unseeded entry. This time, the Terps got the home playoff game they wanted in the first round. It could stretch into a two-week home-field advantage, since Maryland is hosting the quarterfinals round on May 18.

Then again, like pretty much any team not seeded No. 1 (Syracuse) or No. 2 (Notre Dame), the first round figures to be an uncomfortable venture for the Terps, who must tangle with Rob Pannell and the Big Red at Byrd Stadium. Pannell, a fifth-year senior, is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to run a Division I offense.

"He's a tough one. He's a tricky one. I don't think anyone can truly stop him," Maryland coach John Tillman said of Pannell. "I'm not sure we have an answer for him right now."

Tillman might be sand-bagging a little, but he's probably right, even though Maryland's defense is capable of snuffing out just about anyone, especially with the way close defensemen Michael Enright and Goran Murray and goalie Niko Amato are performing.

Look for Maryland to try to limit Pannell the feeder more than Pannell the goal-scorer. Look for the Terps not to slide quickly to Pannell and leave Cornell's midfielders open for step-down shots. Look for Maryland to work extra hard at clogging the cutting and passing lanes Pannell is so good at exploiting.

The most intriguing facet of this matchup is what happens if a shootout breaks out. With Cornell's offense, that can happen anytime. With Cornell's inconsistent defense, that can happen anytime.

A week after breaking out of a scoring slump with 18 goals in a romp over Colgate, Maryland might need 12 or 13 to eliminate the Big Red.

Greyhounds given new NCAA life

Just after defending champion Loyola had beaten Johns Hopkins for only the fourth time in 51 tries — effectively knocking the Blue Jays out of the playoffs for the first time in 42 years — Greyhounds senior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff said Loyola needed to win the ECAC tournament again and grab an AQ slot in the NCAAs, rather than sweat out an at-large bid on the bubble.

Five days later, the Greyhounds got ambushed by Ohio State, 18-11, in the ECAC semifinals. And there was Loyola (11-4) on Sunday night, breathing a huge sigh of relief as the last team in the 16-team test. The Greyhounds are headed to No. 7 Duke, where they must contend with faceoff beast Brendan Fowler, who has sparked the Blue Devils on some incredible scoring runs in 2013.

Ratliff said he felt hopeful about Loyola's chances, given the Greyhounds' solid RPI and avoidance of any bad losses.

"But it was some of the longer two days of my life, wondering if I was going to put this uniform on one more time or not. It was gut-wrenching," Ratliff said.


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