Ever since Towson became the No. 1 team in college lacrosse during the first week of March, the Tigers have struggled. And their fortunes didn’t change Saturday.
Denver midfielder Ted Sullivan scored the game winning goal after driving the right alley with 1:13 remaining as No. 13 Denver defeated No. 8 Towson, 7-6, before an announced crowd of 2,251 at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Since occupying the top spot, Towson barely beat Jacksonville on March 8 and then lost back-to-back games to teams ranked second in the country — 18-11 to then-No. 2 Cornell on March 10 and 12-10 to then-No. 2 Duke six days later.
There are quite a few things that have gone wrong since then, but it basically comes down to turnovers. Towson has committed 179 of them compared to 194 for their opponents, and a lot of Towson’s giveaways have occurred over the past three games.
They had 20 on Saturday, only eight of those forced. Even when Towson had a chance to tie the game at 7 late, midfielder Timmy Monahan drove down the left lane in front of the goal and overthrew attackman Luke Fromert behind it. Then with 20 seconds left, Towson had the ball at midfield but failed to advance after being called offsides.
When Towson was voted the No. 1 team, Loyola Maryland coach Charley Toomey said it was a great honor, but also said sometimes it could be a curse. Towson coach Shawn Nadelen might be seeing his point now.
Denver deserves credit. The Pioneers rebuilt their defense after having a week off before Saturday’s game. They were more aggressive than in previous weeks and looked a lot like the Pioneers defense that started the season.
They double teamed hard from the crease and had a lot of trail checks that dislodged the ball from unsuspecting Towson offensive players several times. But Nadelen also has to be concerned about his team and his players’ field awareness. Were the Tigers caught off-guard by Denver’s new defensive aggressiveness or are the Tigers trying too hard?
It doesn’t appear to be a case of players being selfish, but in some cases Saturday the Tigers were trying to run through double and triple teams instead of passing and cutting.
There were times when Towson looked like the team that started the season. The Tigers had a rough first quarter, but still managed a 2-2 tie at the end of the period. Attackman Brendan Sunday scored with 9:53 left in the third and Monahan scored nearly a minute later to put the Tigers ahead, 6-4, at the end of that period.
But Towson still couldn’t get its offense in sync. When Monahan’s pass went over Fromert’s head late in the game, the Tigers had committed 19 turnovers. Hopefully, the Tigers can get this corrected.
Next Saturday, they start their Colonial Athletic Association schedule when they host Hofstra. Then they play Fairfield followed by No. 20 Massachusetts, Delaware and Drexel.
Overall, the basic strategy is still in place for this team to win. The Tigers (5-3) play hard, aggressive defense. They control faceoffs and goalie Tyler Canto has played well, finishing with 11 saves Saturday.
One characteristic of all Nadelen teams is they are fundamentally sound. But in the past couple of weeks, the Tigers have gotten away from that. It might be time to roll back the clock.