Penn at Towson: Three things to watch

Towson and Penn have met just twice, with each team winning once. Since opening the season with six consecutive wins at home, Towson has dropped two straight. Penn is 3-2 on the road this season.

No. 9 Penn (7-3) has won four straight games and is assured of a berth in the Ivy League tournament. The offense is in the middle of the Division I pack after averaging 9.8 goals so far this year. Senior midfielder Zack Losco leads the team in points with 24 and is the only Quakers player to have at least one point in every game this year.

Towson (8-5) has lost two straight games and is just 1-3 in its past four. The defense is ranked 25th in the country after surrendering 9.2 goals per game. Junior goalkeeper Tyler White is 20th in the nation in goals-against average (9.12) and 39th in save percentage (.513).

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

1) Rediscovering offense. The Tigers’ fall to 58th in Division I has coincided with their recent slide. They averaged just 5.3 goals during their 1-3 stretch, and senior attackman Thomas DeNapoli – the team’s leader in assists (16) and points (32) – has recorded just two goals and three assists in his last four starts. The offense’s troubles don’t bode well against a Penn defense that ranks 18th in the country at 8.9 goals per game and has allowed just 5.8 in its last four games.

“They’re a good team defense,” Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said of the Quakers. “They’ve got good personnel, and they work really well within their system. Our offensive guys have got to be much sharper with our sticks than we have been in the past couple games. We’ve had some stickwork errors that have led to some turnovers on our side. Against a good team, you’ve got to really capitalize on chances when you have the ball, and we’re going to have chances. They’re a good team, but they’re a team that we feel we can score against. But when we’re put in those positions, we have to do it.”

2) Kick-starting man-up offense. The Tigers’ offensive woes have been exacerbated by a sudden loss of power in their man-up offense. For the season, the unit has converted just 29.5 percent (13 of 44) of its extra-man opportunities, but that rate dips to 25.0 percent (4 of 16) in the team’s last five games. Penn’s man-down defense is 20th in the country after killing 68.6 percent (24 of 35) of opponents’ extra-man chances, but Nadelen is more concerned with his team’s proficiency.

“When you’re playing good teams with good offensive and defensive schemes, you’ve got to maximize your scoring chances and when you get the man advantage, that’s a nice opportunity for you,” he said. “Simple turnovers have hurt us at times, some miscues. We’ve had good opportunities. We just haven’t put the ball in the cage. We’ve had a couple layups that we haven’t cashed in and a couple of outside opportunities that we haven’t cashed in. It’s kind of indicative of what it’s been like for our games with us not making our own luck and not making things work out in our own favor.”

3) Pouncing on turnovers. Perhaps the silver lining for Towson is that the Quakers have problems securing the ball. They are tied for 64th out of 67 teams in turnovers, averaging 18.5 so far. If Penn is feeling generous with the ball, that could give the Tigers offense the opening it needs. But Nadelen said that the Quakers’ struggles with giveaways won’t entice the coaching staff to ask the Towson defensive players to extend their pressure.

“We’re not going to get out of character at the end of the season,” he said. “We’re going to stick to who we are and what we do. I think it’s a little bit of how they play. They’re a fast team from the defensive end to the offensive end. So they’re not afraid to take some chances in transition. Offensively, they’re very efficient and they work hard, but they’re also not afraid to generate shots and maybe throw some passes that other teams wouldn’t throw. I think it’s a recipe for them that’s successful that they’re willing to deal with some turnovers since they play good defense.”

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