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Preston: Loyola men's lacrosse team's strengths can't overcome major weakness

Loyola Maryland head coach Charley Toomey, center, gathers with his team after it defeated Army West Point to win the 2017 Patriot League men's lacrosse championship game at Ridley Athletic Complex.
Loyola Maryland head coach Charley Toomey, center, gathers with his team after it defeated Army West Point to win the 2017 Patriot League men's lacrosse championship game at Ridley Athletic Complex. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

If Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse was outstanding in one area, the Greyhounds might be able to hide their greatest weakness. But they are a balanced team and they struggle masking problems when facing off.

It was evident Saturday as No. 6 Loyola was upset by Bucknell, 12-11, before a crowd of about 1,200 at the Ridley Athletic Complex.

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Loyola (5-3) lost 15 of 27 faceoffs, including six of seven in the third quarter when the Greyhounds were outscored 4-2. That period proved to be a major turning point in the game as Loyola fell behind, 10-8.

“Our faceoff situation is a work in progress,” Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. “We threw a freshman out there at times today to let him grow up a little. There were a couple that we won and just didn’t come up with the ball. One time we won and threw it back to our goalie and we lost the ball.

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“There were other times where we won the clamps and pushed it out, but their long poles didn’t allow us to come up with the ball. We’ve tried to be more physical on the wings. We’re going to continue to work on it and we’ll get better.”

The Greyhounds can’t mask the problem because they aren’t dominant in other areas. Defense has always been strong for Loyola in the past, but the Greyhounds have been lethargic at times this season and certainly didn’t show a lot of energy Saturday.

On offense, Loyola was successful at times getting into and running its half-field sets, but missed several easy shots that should have been goals. Those conversions would make losing faceoffs easier to accept while failing to convert makes it harder.

No. 4 Maryland women's lacrosse took a four-goal lead midway through the first half and held off No. 3 James Madison for a 15-12 victory and the Terps' second win over a previously undefeated team in three days.

Loyola has talent. The Greyhounds have one of the game’s best and most creative attackmen in Pat Spencer (Boys’ Latin), and some outstanding talent around him in fellow attackmen Kevin Lindley, Jay Drapeau and Aidan Olmstead. But if a team can’t take advantage of scoring opportunities, then it makes no difference if its wins the faceoffs or not.

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“Our problems were magnified because they would come down and hold the ball a little bit,” Toomey said. “They have played that way and we knew they were going to play that way.”

Loyola will see more of that. Teams like to slow it down against the Greyhounds because they prefer the fast tempo and want to push the transition game. But teams will value possession more if Loyola continues to lose faceoffs.

Before Saturday’s game, Loyola had won only 69 of 175 faceoffs this season. Senior Mike Orefice was 47-for-115 and freshman Bailey Savio was 21-for-54.

On Saturday, when Loyola had an advantage in faceoffs, it also outscored Bucknell in the second and fourth quarters.

The No. 14 Robert Morris men’s lacrosse team climbed out of a 2-0 hole by scoring its first five goals in transition en route to a convincing 15-5 demolition of host Mount St. Mary’s in a Northeast Conference game.

It’s a simple game. When a team doesn’t control the ball, weaknesses are exposed. The Bison scored on three of six extra-man opportunities as Loyola was penalized six times for five minutes.

When a team doesn’t have the ball, it feels pressured and rushed to score late in games. When that same team spends too much time on defense, it gets tired near the end and often gets caught ball watching while allowing easy goals.

Toomey wants to safeguard against those things happening regularly to Loyola.

There is still a lot of season remaining and Loyola has five regular-season games remaining before the Patriot League tournament begins. Offensively, Loyola will get better because it has0 too much talent. On defense, the Greyhounds have to get more from their short-stick midfielders.

But if the Greyhounds want to make a serious run, they have to get better and start winning more faceoffs. That could solve a lot of problems instead of allowing opposing teams to take advantage of them.

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