In 39 years as a head coach, Delaware’s Bob Shillinglaw has seen – and consequently, prepared for – many strategies and tactics from opponents. But even he sounded mystified as to why his team failed to score a goal in the second half of Saturday night’s 11-8 loss to Colonial Athletic Association rival Towson (7-2, 1-0).
The Blue Hens (5-4 overall and 0-2 in the conference) took just six shots in the final two quarters and seemed to be out of sorts against the No. 20 Tigers' zone defense.
“For some reason, we didn’t do a good job executing,” Shillinglaw said. “We’ve got several zone offenses, and we didn’t play well.”
Five of the eight goals Delaware scored in the first half came from the perimeter, which would seem to fit against a zone defense that constricts inside chances and dares offenses to shoot from the outside.
But Towson’s defenders were an active bunch, getting sticks in the passing lanes and opponents’ gloves. The Blue Hens committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the second half, and the Tigers scooped up 15 ground balls compared to Delaware’s 10.
“I just think our zone really shocked them,” Towson senior defenseman John Fennessy said. “Obviously, they knew we had it from playing them in years past. Coach Shillinglaw has been there forever. So he’s seen us in our zone, but we kept our sticks up, limited the skip passes, and like coach [Shawn Nadelen] said, once the ball was on the ground, we flew to it. We were a little lackadaisical in the first half. We talked about it at halftime and were ready to go in the second.”
Nadelen said the Tigers decided to abandon the man-to-man defense for the zone because of the Blue Hens’ athletic midfielders.
“That was a big part of our game plan going into it,” he said. “We played it in the first half, and I think they might have got a couple goals against it. We needed to just settle down a little bit more in that. They have terrific, terrific athletes across the midfield, and the more we could not have to try to match their speed and athleticism by playing man to man was something that we wanted to have in our back pocket to play with. It definitely worked out well, especially in the second half.”
The defensive performance also appeared to aid Tyler White. The junior goalkeeper made just one save on nine shots on goal by Delaware in the first half, but made two more stops in the second half.
Nadelen said he did not consider pulling White in favor of freshman Matt Hoy, who warmed up in the second quarter but did not enter the game.
“I knew our defense wasn’t playing as well as it should have in front of him,” Nadelen said. “So it wasn’t like Tyler was playing that bad to pull him. We just needed to settle down, and I know Tyler needed to work through it a little bit. He did a terrific job of that coming out in the second half.”
White said the faith shown in him by Nadelen and offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi at halftime energized him.
“Went into halftime and my spirits were kind of low,” White said. “Coach [Nadelen] walked past me in the locker room and said, ‘You’ve got this. I’m confident in you. Keep your head up.’ And then when I was in the locker room, Coach Gilardi came up to me and said, ‘We’re only down by four goals. We’ve come back from way worse. We’re going to start hitting the shots. Believe in us and we’ll start believing in you.’
"That kind of gave me my jump in the second half. I really think that’s kind of why in the second half, we held them to zero goals. We just started believing, the offense started clicking and hitting their shots. We started playing with a chip on our shoulders – or at least I did in the second half.”
* Towson’s offense scored seven goals in the second half to complete the comeback, but junior midfielder Greg Cuccinello credited a defensive stop with sparking the offense. With sophomore defenseman Mike Lowe serving a 30-second penalty for illegal procedure to begin the third quarter, the man-down defense successfully killed the penalty.
“What really got us going offensively was coming out and being man-down and getting a stop,” Cuccinello said. “Defense always leads to offense, and as an offense, we gain so much confidence from our defense, which got stop after stop. They didn’t score a goal in the second half. So we gained a lot of confidence from that. We knew that if we kept shooting, they would fall eventually. We just weren’t hitting our target in the first half.”
Shillinglaw also noted how that missed extra-man opportunity seemed to turn the tide in the Tigers’ favor. “I thought we had some opportunities in the second half,” he said. “Had an extra-man, no faceoff. Got the ball inside, didn’t quite get the shot or a goal off of it, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the way.”
* With sophomore faceoff specialist Conor Pequigney (1 of 5 and one ground ball) struggling against Blue Hens junior Tyler Barbarich, Towson turned to freshman Alec Burckley, who won 7 of 16 draws.
He picked up just two ground balls, but his value was in making Barbarich (13 of 21 and seven ground balls) and his teammates on the wings work for loose balls.
“Alec did a great job coming in for relief of Conor and just being able to make it more contested and more of a 50-50 ball than actually winning it outright,” Nadelen said.
Shillinglaw said Burckley did a good job neutralizing Barbarich.
“He seemed a little quicker,” Shillinglaw said of Burckley. “He got it [to] more of a 50-50 ground ball situation. Once it got into that situation, they won a lot of 50-50 ground balls in a faceoff situation.”
* Nadelen, who is usually reserved, was assessed a one-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct with 45 seconds left in the first quarter. The coach, who was unhappy that there was no call when a Towson player was hit by a Blue Hens player before he could get to the ball, acknowledged that part of his frustration stemmed from the team’s 5-1 deficit at that point.
“I wasn’t happy across the board,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with how we were as a team. There was definitely some frustration. I didn’t think we were alert and aware of what needed to be done. We weren’t really dialed in offensively when we had some good opportunities. I definitely got frustrated with the officials. I don’t want to say it was a planned thing for me to get a technical foul. I really didn’t think I said anything that bad at the time, but they had to make the call, and they did.”