Johns Hopkins at Towson: Three things to watch

No. 5 Johns Hopkins (1-0) has had its way in this series, winning 37 of 40 contests – including 17 straight. The Blue Jays are coming off an impressive 15-6 rout of Siena last Friday that included 58 shots. Earlier that day, Towson (0-1) suffered a stunning 9-7 loss to High Point, which claimed the program’s first victory. Perhaps the Tigers can take advantage of returning home, but they have dropped four of their last five games at home. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday night.

1) Slow down. As mentioned previously, Johns Hopkins took 58 shots last Friday, marking the most attempts by the program since March 9, 2004 when that squad fired 61 shots in a 17-6 victory over Albany. The Blue Jays’ ability to turn saves by senior goalkeeper Pierce Bassett and turnovers caused by the defense into transition chances is a cause for concern for Towson coach Shawn Nadelen, who said a point of emphasis in practice this week has been getting back on defense. “Get back in the hole before they do defensively,” Nadelen said of the coaching staff’s oft-repeated mantra to the players. “Another great way to do that is to score goals. We’re doing our part in practice to emphasize how important it is to – if we do turn the ball over in our offensive end or they make a save and are looking to get out – pick up the guys that are breaking out and getting back into the hole and play transition defense. We need to make sure that we don’t give them easy opportunities with poor shot selection and careless passing.”

2) Anticipate the zone. New rules in place to help accelerate the pace of play have opened the door for teams with opportunistic transitions to pressure opposing defenses. But the implementation of a shot clock also means that offenses can’t take their sweet time and not attack the net. A zone defense – a facet that the Tigers have featured in the past – just might fluster an offense enough to earn a shot clock warning, but Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said his players won’t be shocked if Towson employs the zone. “We’ve been practicing for zone since the first week,” he said. “With the change in the rules, we’ve anticipated that teams will play it more. So we’ve prepared since the start of the spring. We’ve got a zone in as well, so we’ve played it. Obviously, there are different variations of it, and there’s a very good chance that we could see it on Saturday night. So what we’ve done is we’ve gone into the game preparing for a number of different things that we think we could see.”

3) Get offensive. The Tigers opened the season with just seven goals, seemingly extending last year’s struggles on offense. Sophomore attackman Cory Dobyns, a transfer from Drexel, scored four goals, but no other Towson player finished with more than one goal against the Panthers last Friday. Nadelen said he is hopeful that the offense will rediscover the execution the unit demonstrated in preseason scrimmages. “They performed well in our scrimmages and before that. So I want to see them get back into that strong performance and execution and mindset,” he said. “That’s where we have quite a few veterans in the mix in guys like [junior midfielders] Thomas DeNapoli and Andrew Hodgson and [sophomore midfielders] Justin Mabus and Greg Cuccinello and [senior midfielder] Neil Hutchinson and [senior attackman] Matt Hughes. Those guys have played a lot of minutes. So I’d like to see those guys really perform at a high level and put some pressure on Hopkins defense and capitalize on their opportunities.”

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