Towson’s record in this series stands at 3-6, but the two sides will meet in an NCAA Division I tournament setting for only the second time with Ohio State cruising to a 16-6 rout in the first round of the 2013 postseason. The Tigers are making their first appearance in the semifinals since 2001 and are seeking their first berth in the title game since 1991. The Buckeyes are playing in their first final four.
Towson (12-4) is the third unseeded team in as many years to make it to championship weekend after upending No. 2 seed Syracuse, 10-7, in Sunday’s quarterfinal. The program had a record six players earn All-American status from the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association on Wednesday. Headlining that group were two second-team choices in senior short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Adams (16 ground balls and five caused turnovers) and sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Zach Goodrich (46 GB, 17 CT, seven goals and one assist).
Ohio State (15-4) – which beat Duke, 16-11, a week ago – is trying to become the first No. 3 seed to advance to the tournament final since Syracuse in 2008. The team also had six players receive All-American accolades, which ties a program record set in 1957. Junior defenseman Ben Randall (47 GB, 13 CT, 3 A) became the first player in school history to be named to the first team.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday at noon.
1) Towson’s offense. On March 15, the Tigers were shut out in the first and fourth quarters in a 6-3 loss to Ohio State. But the offense has scored a combined 22 goals in wins against No. 7 seed Penn State and Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes defense has surrendered 15 goals in the postseason including only four in a three-goal win against Loyola Maryland in the first round. Coach Shawn Nadelen said Towson does not have to stray from its usual offensive philosophy at this stage of the season.
“We have to stick to our identity, and that’s grinding out our offensive possessions and making their defense really work by being aggressive in our dodging, by being cohesive, by having good chemistry in our off-ball movement, being disciplined in how we move the ball, how we move off-ball, sharing it, which is something that our offense did a really good job of [against the Orange],” he said. “If we can stay consistent with that, we should be able to continue to generate good offensive looks and good shots on the cage.”
2) Ohio State’s offense. Duke had boasted the nation’s fifth-stingiest defense at 7.9 goals per game before the Buckeyes tagged the Blue Devils a season-worst 16 times. Freshman attackman Tre Leclaire has already set a program record for goals (45) and points (59) by a rookie. On the flip side, Towson ranks third in the country in defense at 7.4 goals per game and has not allowed an opponent to score 10 goals in the past nine games. Ohio State coach Nick Myers acknowledged that the Tigers will be a tough unit to crack.
“We’re looking at this week, and it’s a very different challenge from what Duke did,” he said. “[The Blue Devils] pressed out and kind of chased you all over the field versus a team that is much more condensed and really tries to bully you in a different kind of way. So spacing is going to be so critical. Where we attack and how we attack and the angles that we use to attack are going to be important.”
3) Matt Ward’s perspective. The former Virginia attackman and 2006 Tewaaraton Award winner will join former Princeton attackman and four-time All-American Ryan Boyle and host Chris Cotter in the ESPN studio to analyze Saturday’s semifinals and Monday’s final. He offered his thoughts on keys for both teams.
“For Towson, can they match up physically and athletically with Ohio State?” Ward said. “Towson prides themselves on being a blue-collar program. Can they play with a blue-collar attitude and out-physical Ohio State? For Ohio State, what’s key for them is getting off to a quick start. Can they break through this Towson defense early and get some of that confidence? If they do, the floodgates will open.”