Loyola Maryland has won all three games in this series, but the two sides will meet for the first time as Patriot League foes and for the first time since 1983. The Greyhounds are 5-0 at home this season, which does not bode well for a Bucknell team that is just 1-5 on the road.
The Bison (7-6 overall and 4-3 in the conference) have won two consecutive games against Mount St. Mary’s and Lafayette after losing to No. 11 Army and Fairfield.
Their offense sits in the bottom third of Division I at 9.1 goals per game, but the unit does boast a pair of individual standouts. Junior attackman David Dickson’s 98 career assists are the fifth-most among active players, and senior attackman Todd Heritage has 116 career goals, which is just one shy of tying Tom Cusick for second-most in program history.
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The Greyhounds (11-1, 7-0) have won 11 straight since falling, 14-13 in overtime, to No. 8 Virginia on Feb. 6. Their defense ranks fourth in Division I after surrendering an average of 7.2 goals. Senior Jack Runkel ranks second among active goalkeepers with 37 wins and trails only Maryland senior Niko Amato, who has amassed 42 victories.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Thursday at 7 p.m.
1) Piercing Bucknell’s defense. Five teams from the Patriot League rank in the top 10 in the country in defense, and at No. 10 are the Bison.
Opponents have averaged just 8.2 goals against Bucknell, which is 7-2 when holding teams to less than 10 goals. On the flipside, the Bison are 0-4 when opposing offenses have reached the 10-goal mark.
That would appear to bode well for Loyola, which has scored at least 10 goals in 10 game, is 9-1 in those games, and has averaged 13.3 goals. But coach Charley Toomey pointed out that Bucknell’s defense is different from any other that his players have seen thus far.
“They are a slide-and-recover team, and they do it very well,” Toomey said. “What we’ve talked about is dodging hard and moving the ball. You can’t let them recover and get set for another slide. We have to keep the ball moving to create some situations on the backside. That’s been our point of emphasis.”
2) Solving Bucknell’s ride. One of the hallmarks of the Bison is an aggressive, intensive 10-man ride that applies constant pressure to teams attempting to clear the ball from the defensive side to the offensive zone.
Think of a full-court press in basketball, except that Bucknell players have sticks in their hands that they use to get into passing lanes and strip ball carriers.
The Greyhounds rank first in the nation in clearing at 94.0 percent (202-of-215), but opponents have cleared the ball just 75.7 percent (162-of-214) of the time against the Bison.
“Really, it’s four [defenders] across the midline, and you have to handle the early pressure,” Toomey said. “If you can get the ball down to your offensive end quickly, you’re going to give yourselves a much better chance. But if you start throwing cross-field passes and try to leg it out, you’re going to have to leg it out against two, possibly three guys. So you have to be a team that’s willing to take care of the ball and make that extra pass and hopefully switch fields.”
3) Protecting the ball. Ball security has not been an issue for Loyola, which leads the country in fewest average turnovers at 10.4 per game.
Maintaining possession is a point of emphasis every week. That philosophy will be tested by a Bucknell squad that ranks sixth in the nation at caused turnovers, forcing 9.9 takeaways per game. The ride plays a significant role, but Toomey said that the Greyhounds must take their time and make good decisions.
“We have to be ourselves,” he said. “We can’t try to do too much. You can’t try to make the first play. You have to be very patient and not maybe attack the first slide that we might get by because it’s probably going to be more about the second or third pass where we’re going to get good looks. It’s something that [offensive coordinator David] Metzbower has been preaching – ball movement and just picking our spots, and once we have those opportunities, we have to finish them.”