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Penn State at Towson: Three things to watch

Nittany Lions and No. 20 Tigers clash in meeting that could have ramifications for upcoming CAA tournament

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

10:00 AM EDT, April 12, 2014

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Towson has won 14 of 21 games in this series, but Penn State has won three of the last four meetings. Four of the last five contests between the Colonial Athletic Association rivals have been decided by two goals or less.

Penn State (4-6 overall and 0-2 in the conference) is reeling, having dropped three straight games. The team is 2-2 away from State College, Pa., and has lost back-to-back road games for the first time under coach Jeff Tambroni. An offense that ranks 22nd in scoring at 10.8 goals per game is headed by senior attackman Shane Sturgis, who ranks 17th in Division I in average points at 3.9.

No. 20 Towson (8-3, 2-1) rebounded from a 9-7 loss to No. 16 Hofstra on March 29 with a 6-5 upset of then-No. 18 Massachusetts on Saturday. The team is 6-0 at home this season, which is the program’s best mark since 1985 when that squad won its first six home contests before dropping the last two. Freshman attackman Joe Seider (Hereford) leads the offense in goals with 19 and has scored six times in his last two starts.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

1) Can Tyler White post another excellent outing? For all of the Nittany Lions’ struggles, the offense has scored at least 10 goals in three of its last four games. That unit could be a problem for the Tigers, but their defense has been sturdier this season. Opponents are averaging just 9.0 goals against Towson, which has relied on junior goalkeeper Tyler White. He has registered a 7.00 goals-against average and a. 573 save percentage in his last eight starts, and coach Shawn Nadelen hopes that his career-high 16-save performance against the Minutemen will continue to power the defense.

“We’d like to have more points on the board offensively, and Tyler was a huge part of that success on Saturday,” Nadelen said. “I hope it helps him gain confidence and will sharpen him up as we continue going forward. The team can hopefully rally around it because we didn’t play very well defensively or offensively, and Tyler bailed us out on both ends.”

2) Can the offense rediscover its touch? The Tigers have scored just 13 goals in their last two games, and their woes have shown in their shooting percentage. After converting just 7-of-24 shots against Hofstra and 6-of-35 attempts against Massachusetts, the offense shot just 22.0 percent in those two contests. Accuracy has been an issue for Towson all season; the team ranks 44th in the country in shooting percentage at 26.6 percent (100-of-376). Nadelen knows that the unit must be more efficient against Penn State senior goalie Austin Kaut, who ranks second in Nittany Lions history in career saves at 653.

“Our guys have to put in a little more work on the field with their shooting and where they get their shots from, and understand that when they have their opportunities – especially in conference play, where we have good teams with good defenses and goalies – we’ve really got to bury our chances and increase our productivity there,” Nadelen said.

3) Can the Tigers keep Penn State down? After the Nittany Lions announced that they would jump to the Big Ten for the 2015 season, the CAA ruled that they were ineligible to participate in the conference’s tournament. And with six losses, the team is likely out of contention for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. Towson needs a win to keep the heat on Hofstra (8-3, 3-0) for the race for the regular-season championship and the top seed in the league tournament. The Tigers should pounce on Penn State, but Nadelen said they should not expect their visitors to wilt easily.

“They’ve probably had a season that has not been what they wanted, but I know they’re looking at Saturday night as an opportunity to correct some of that,” he said.