Coming off a huge weekend that included wins over lacrosse powers Loyola (Md.) and Denver and the program’s first ECAC championship ever, there was a question of whether the No. 3 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team would overlook visiting Towson on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
It’s fair to say that didn’t happen.
The Buckeyes laid it on the Tigers, pulling away to an emphatic 16-6 win in Ohio Stadium that showed the Scarlet and Gray might just be in the NCAA tournament for the long haul.
“We’re thankful to get the win at home in front of a home crowd,” head coach Nick Myers said after the second NCAA win ever for the Buckeyes. “It was an exciting day for this program to host our first playoff game in the NCAAs. We prepared hard all week for a very good Towson team.”
Ohio State (13-3) moves on to just the second NCAA quarterfinal in program history, as the Buckeyes will face Cornell on Saturday in Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.
The Big Red will enter the game with plenty of momentum after a 16-8 upset of sixth-seeded Maryland, but the Buckeyes delivered notice Sunday afternoon that they’ll be a tough out for any program in the country.
The team’s offense was efficient and lethal, as Jesse King posted a team-best four goals, Carter Brown and Logan Schuss added hat tricks, and David Planning tallied twice. The squad was boosted by a dominant day on the faceoff spot by Trey Wilkes, who won 18 of 23 draws to spur a 10-2 run that blew open what had been a fairly close game in the first half.
“For me, the turning point in the game was the third quarter when Trey and Michael (Italiano) and Darius (Bowling), our wing play really got hot,” Myers said after OSU's seventh straight win. “We started to stack possessions on top of each other. I think we found a rhythm and didn’t have to play as much defense as we were playing in the first half.”
That dominant offense followed as the Buckeyes controlled possession and didn’t fail on many opportunities against the Towson defense. Schuss and fellow senior Dominique Alexander each had three assists while Planning had two, as Ohio State’s fluid offense seemingly always made the extra pass to leave Towson goalie Andre Wascavage without much of a chance in most situations.
The Tigers also tended to overplay the Buckeyes’ strong-hand attacker, resulting in open spaces for the rest of the attack.
“We were just letting the game come to us and moving the ball around and finding that good matchup,” said Schuss, who extended his OSU record for career goals to 145. “When you do, they’re going to have to slide against guys like Jesse and Dominique who are dodging, so then that opens up the guy on the backside for the open look.”
On the other side of the coin, the Buckeyes did not commit a penalty, converted 14 of 15 clears, held a 34-23 advantage in ground balls and forced 10 turnovers while watching goaltender Greg Dutton make seven saves.
“I thought our zone worked great,” Dutton said. “We did a great job of rotating, and we scouted that all week. We knew they were going to pop up at the crease and get us rotating, and we were comfortable with that. I think the only times they really scored on us is when we had mental breakdowns, but we regrouped well. That was a real team effort.”
Ohio State also held Towson attacker Thomas DeNapoli, who entered with 41 goals, to just one tally. Andrew Hodgson led the Tigers with three tallies.
Towson took an early 2-1 lead thanks to goals by Matthew Hughes and Hodgson, but King started what was the first of three instances of four consecutive goals by OSU with a marker at 1:45 of the first. Brown and Planning scored in the last 30 seconds of the first quarter to give the Buckeyes a 4-2 lead after one, then King got on the board again 51 seconds into the second.
Hodgson answered with his second goal of the game, but from there, Ohio State tightened the vise and never looked back, much to the delight of the 2,358 in the under-renovation Horseshoe.
“It means a lot to be able to play a home game in the ‘Shoe,” Alexander said. “Anytime you play in the ‘Shoe, it’s a historic stadium and you’re honored to play there. We didn’t want to go out with a loss at home, so the whole team bought into that mentality and we really wanted to have a win for our fans to leave on.”