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Preston: In loss to Brown, UMBC men's lacrosse's faceoff problem comes to light

Preston: In loss to Brown, UMBC men's lacrosse's faceoff problem comes to light
Josh Jordan scored three goals for UMBC in the Retrievers' 14-13 overtime loss to Brown. (Ian Feldman/UMBC Athletics)

Facing off is often one of the most overlooked parts of a lacrosse game because few players can dominate. However, that area was the key in Brown’s 14-13 overtime win against UMBC on Saturday before an announced crowd of 1,436 at UMBC Stadium.

The two teams were pretty even in most of the other statistical categories, but the Browns (2-1) won 21 of 31 faceoffs, including the one before sophomore midfielder Ryan Aughaven scored the game-winner on an assist from junior attackman Jack Kniffin 54 seconds into the 4-minute sudden-death overtime period.

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Aughaven’s goal touched off a wild celebration by Brown, which held off a fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the Retrievers (1-3), who scored four unanswered goals in the final period to send the game to overtime.

Brown’s Jason Simaan, who won 15 of 23 faceoffs, won the opening one in the overtime before Kniffin found Aughaven about 15 feet from the right of the cage.

“We have two young kids, two freshmen, learning, and it was baptism under fire,” said UMBC coach Ryan Moran of two of his three faceoff specialists. “They battled their butts off, but Brown just came up with a few more ground balls than we did.”

Finding a top faceoff specialist has been a problem for the Retrievers in their past two games. UMBC beat Mount St. Mary’s, 13-10, last Saturday, but the Retrievers won only six of 27 faceoffs in that game and lost all 12 in the second half.

Against Brown on Saturday, freshmen Brandon Galloway and P.J. Argiros were a combined 8-for-24 and junior Danny Isaac wasn’t much better, winning only two.

In lacrosse, if you don’t have a great goalie or good defense, a team can’t afford to lose control of the possessions. That’s why the great coaches put an emphasis on finding a quality faceoff specialist.

UMBC went into the fourth quarter trailing 13-9. They won three of five faceoffs in the period and outscored the Bears, 4-0, in the quarter. Before Saturday’s loss, UMBC had a .444 faceoff percentage, winning only 36 of 81.

The Retrievers aren’t good enough to lose that many possessions. The defense is too inconsistent and they give up too many goals in transition. The offense works in spurts, but sometimes UMBC hurts itself with sloppy and errant passes. Against Brown with 54 seconds left in regulation, the Retrievers held the ball for 33 seconds before attacking the goal.

They have to play with caution and value possessions.

“We were giving up some goals in transition and that team runs very, very well,” said Moran of his team’s last possession in regulation. “We wanted to make sure that if we turned the ball over or if it was a loose ball, there would be a limited amount of time. I was pretty confident with the play I had drawn up. I had run it many times and knew how long it took. I wanted to make sure the game ended on this side of the field.”

It was a close game throughout except for when the Bears started to pull away late in the third. But junior attackman Brett McIntyre scored two of his five goals in the fourth period and senior midfielder Billy Nolan added a goal and added an assist in the final quarter.

Brown outshot the Retrievers, 37-35, and held a 39-30 advantage in ground balls. UMBC had four more clears than Brown and both teams scored one extra-man goal. Brown had 20 turnovers compared to 15 for the Retrievers.

The difference was in the faceoffs. Brown dominated.

“We’re a team that is growing,” Moran said. “We had injuries to our three starting defensemen and were playing with our fourth, fifth and sixth guy. We performed well, but it’s not always showing up in the wins and loss column right now. If there was one positive, there was no quit out there. We had every opportunity to take this game and we just didn’t go it.”

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“We go upward from here,” McIntyre said. “We’re past Brown, now on to High Point. It’s the little things that really cost us in the game. Just getting a little ground ball here, which turns into a big ground ball, or just running the extra inch to get us over the line in clearing the ball. But I felt like we came together this game. We didn’t quit.”

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