The offense continues to be a work in progress for the Towson men’s lacrosse team. Now the defense can be added to the to-do list.
Tied at 9 after three quarters, the No. 19 Tigers wilted and dropped a 12-10 decision to visiting Georgetown before an announced 632 at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Towson (1-2) was let down by a defense that is suddenly an area of concern. A longstanding hallmark of the program under coach Shawn Nadelen, the defense has now surrendered at least 10 goals in each of its first three games for the first time since 2012.
After watching the No. 14 Blue Jays lose to No. 12 North Carolina, 13-11, on Friday night before a crowd of nearly 1,300 at Homewood Field, it’s clear Johns Hopkins is a team in search of a lot of things.
“Very uncharacteristic of a Towson defense,” Nadelen said Saturday. “I think we’re not playing good team defense. We’re not staying disciplined and fundamental on-ball. We’re not doing a great job of reading when we need to support and when we don’t and being able to help each other out in certain areas. We’re just not on the same page overall, and that’s something that we’ve got to continue to work with and figure out.”
Heading into the season, the defense was considered to be the biggest strength with the return of all three starting defensemen, a starting goalkeeper and one of two starting short-stick defensive midfielders.
Giving up 14 goals to No. 14 Johns Hopkins in the season opener on Feb. 10 might have been easy to dismiss as an anomaly, but 13 goals to Mount St. Mary’s on Feb. 17 and now 12 to Georgetown are red flags for the Tigers.
Against the Hoyas (3-0), the deficiencies were apparent. On several occasions, the defense paid too much attention to the ball carrier, leaving an opponent wide open for shots. At least three goals came from spots that were 12 yards or further from the net.
“First half, we just weren’t playing and being ourselves and weren’t taking control of our matchups and not sliding effectively,” junior defenseman Chad Patterson (Westminster) said. “We knew what they were doing, we knew the game plan. We just didn’t execute.”
In the fourth quarter, the defense switched from man-to-man to zone primarily, inciting a couple of shot-clock warnings. But Georgetown senior midfielder Craig Berge wiped out one warning by buzzing a shot from 17 yards away with 13:27 left in period, and the Hoyas waited out Towson by moving the ball until opportunities presented themselves.
“I think it was our unselfishness,” said Berge, who scored twice. “We took a few bad shots, but for the most part, I think we shot pretty well percentage-wise, and we just really moved the ball well and took good shots.”
The Tigers also had trouble containing junior attackman Daniel Bucaro, who had a hand in the first four goals of Georgetown’s 5-0 run in the second quarter that turned a 5-3 deficit into an 8-5 Hoyas advantage. Bucaro put a spin move on Patterson that left him on the turf for his first goal, beat junior short-stick defensive midfielder Zach Goodrich for his second, and spun away from freshman long-stick midfielder Koby Smith (Loyola Blakefield) for his third.
Junior attackman Jon Mazza and freshman attackman Phil Wies (Loyola) each scored three times for Towson, but the offense committed three of the team’s five turnovers in the fourth quarter. Twice, junior midfielder Brendan Sunday could not handle passes from redshirt senior midfielder Jean-Luc Chetner, and redshirt junior attackman Dylan Kinnear airmailed a pass out of bounds that ended the team’s final offensive possession.
So what’s the cure for what’s ailing Towson’s defense? Goodrich, widely considered one of the top short-stick defensive midfielders in Division I, said it goes back to trust.
“I think the biggest thing is just having each other’s back,” he said. “It’s a team game. We need to know that if somebody gets beat, we need to be there for the slide. If somebody’s dodging down the alley, we’ve got to be back-side. So I think the biggest thing is just coming together as a team and just knowing where each other is and just coming together.”
The Tigers will not get much time to overhaul the defense as they travel to face No. 10 Loyola Maryland on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Greyhounds thrashed Lafayette, 19-5, on Saturday and are averaging 14.3 goals this season.
Asked what team he expects to see Wednesday, Nadelen replied: “We’ll find out. I really have no idea with how we’ll respond. Every game has been a little bit of a mystery going into it in seeing how we play — to this point anyway. I’m confident in these guys that we’ll get on track. Obviously with a quick turnaround against a very dangerous team like Loyola, it takes all of your attention. You’d like a week to prepare, you’d like a week to be able to get healthy and put your best guys out there.”