Loyola coach Dave Cottle could see it coming throughout a week of practices that lacked inspiration.
Yesterday before 2,172 at Minnegan Stadium, the No. 3 Greyhounds jumped on rival Towson early, went into an offensive drought that featured too many penalties and missed shots, then withstood a scrappy comeback by the Tigers before leaving with a 13-8 victory.
It was a rare, flat performance by a team that has won 30 consecutive regular-season games. The Greyhounds (7-0) were not sharp with the ball, whether passing, catching or shooting it. Their settled offense never seemed to be in sync.
But in the end, Loyola's dogged defense and goalkeeper Jason Born (15 saves) denied the host Tigers, who deserve credit for erasing a 7-1 second-quarter deficit and closing within 10-7 with 3: 08 left in the contest.
Cottle dismissed the notion that the Greyhounds were looking past Towson (1-4) to Friday night's showdown at the Carrier Dome against top-ranked Syracuse.
"We probably played like we practiced. We were a little disinterested in practice this week, and we played like it today," Cottle said.
"I don't think we were thinking about Syracuse this week. I just don't think we were thinking about lacrosse. For us to be effective, we have to out-work and out-hustle people and share the ball with each other. I'm happy we survived today. We didn't play well together. Our talent won the game."
Talent such as midfielder Gavin Prout, the Canadian transfer from Gannon College who led the way with four goals -- including Loyola's first three -- and leads the team with 22. Or attackman Tim Goettelmann, who hurt Towson with three goals and two assists. Or a defensive unit, led by David Metz and the finally healthy Joe Rodrigues, that stuffed the Tigers on nine of 10 extra-man opportunities.
The Greyhounds overcame 10 penalties (at a cost of eight minutes) and a 1-for-5 showing in their extra-man attack. Coming into the game, Loyola easily ranked tops in the nation, having converted 68.2 percent of those chances.
Loyola was probably fortunate to stumble into a Towson team that is too young and raw to topple such a top-shelf opponent.
The Tigers got goals from six players -- Ryan Obloj and Brad Monaco scored two apiece -- but don't have true, go-to guys. Junior goalie John Horrigan fueled the Tigers' second-half comeback with 11 saves, but struggled early, as Loyola took a 7-1 lead midway through the second quarter. Towson also was down a key player after faceoff specialist Justin Berry tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at practice on Thursday and is done for the season.
"That kills us, but it had nothing to do with the game," Towson coach Tony Seaman said of Berry's injury. "We dug a hole early, but these kids fight and play tough. If anybody had told me we'd be down 10-7 late in the fourth quarter, especially with Justin going down late in the week, I'd have been happy."
Mike Haertel, Berry's replacement, performed admirably, winning 10 of 21 faceoffs. He also scored the goal that cut Loyola's lead to 10-7. But Towson, which blew far too many possessions with turnovers, lost the ensuing faceoff on an illegal procedure call.
Then, the Tigers, desperately in need of another goal, brought Horrigan out of the cage to double-team Bobby Horsey behind the net. Horsey passed to a wide-open Peter Haas on the crease, and Haas hit the open net to make it 11-7 with 2: 39 to go. Ballgame.
"We came out and played hard like we were supposed to, and we kind of coasted and believed we had it in the bag," Prout said. "The Tigers are a tough team, and they showed it with their heart and their hustle."
Even though the Greyhounds led 7-2 at the half, they went scoreless for the final 8: 16 of the second quarter. And Loyola did not score again until Prout made it 8-3 with 8: 15 left in the third, breaking a drought of nearly 15 minutes. Tim Goettelmann's two goals kept Towson at bay, 10-5, to close the period.