Ohio State’s Greg Dutton did not get to watch the entirety of Cornell’s 16-8 upset of sixth-seeded Maryland in a NCAA tournament first-round game last Sunday. But the junior goalkeeper watched the film, and fifth-year senior attackman Rob Pannell’s four-goal, three-assist performance was no less impressive a day or two after the fact.
“Rob Pannell is a great player, and he’s been a great player there for four years,” said Dutton, a Timonium native and Calvert Hall graduate. “He’s probably one of the best players to ever play Division I lacrosse. You’ve got to keep an eye on him. He’s got to be your first worry. He’s their quarterback, and I think we have a solid game plan that will play to our strengths. We’ll do our best to contain him.”
What the Buckeyes (13-3) have schemed to contain Pannell is perhaps the most significant storyline of this Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
Pannell exposed the Terps’ man-to-man defense, and several analysts have said that Ohio State does not have a standout defenseman to take Pannell out of his element. Those same analysts have theorized that the Buckeyes will try a variety of defenses – zone, matchup zone, shutoff with zone – to keep Pannell (40 goals and 47 assists) on his heels.
Asked about what plans his defense has for Pannell, coach Nick Myers turned the tables.
“I’m open to your suggestions if you’ve got any,” he deadpanned before chuckling. “I think if anyone had that answer, [Cornell] wouldn’t be playing right now. No one’s really stopped them. If you look at the couple times that they’ve been beat, Syracuse stopped them 14-13 and Virginia lost 12-11. I think realistically, you’ve got to keep them in that 10-11 range and hope that your offense can get to that 13-14 range. We’re a defense that has only given up 10 three or four times in the last couple years, but it’s not a comfort level for us. So the goal is that we can hopefully keep them in that 9, 10, 11 range and do enough on the other end of the field to hopefully put enough goals on the board to get us a W. I think our guys understand that. It’s not going to be any one magic defense that does it. We’re going to have to play great team defense. You’re going to have to make some stops, you’re going to have to make saves, and you’re going to have to win the ground ball war.”
As critical as Ohio State’s defense will be, the one player who might have the most to say in the unit’s showing is Dutton. He has recorded an 8.45 goals-against average and a .541 save percentage, and he may have to make a few outstanding saves to keep the team in the game.
“I’m obviously going to have to step up and play my best,” Dutton said. “They have a great offense. I think they average 15 goals a game, which is unreal. If we can just cut down on some of their goals, we have a great offense that has been putting up big numbers and if we can hold them to well under 15, I think we have a shot to win.”