It was little more than a week ago that the Navy lacrosse team appeared to be on the outside looking into the NCAA lacrosse tournament. Now the Mids are about to host a quarterfinal game, earning a rematch with Johns Hopkins after beating North Carolina, 8-7. It was a great win for a team that wasn’t even supposed to be there.
The Bad: During the pregame show on WNAV, Pete Medhurst mentioned that Coach Meade felt that his team needed to win at least 50% of the faceoffs in order to have a shot at winning. They didn’t even come close, only pulling out 6 of 19. Combined with UNC clipping Navy in ground balls (41-39), you’d think that it spelled bad news for the Mids. But that’s before you factor in…
The Good: …North Carolina’s atrocious 14-26 on clears. What used to be Navy’s biggest problem became their best friend on Saturday night, as the Tar Heels couldn’t solve Navy’s ride. Not only did UNC’s clearing problem lead directly to two Navy goals, but it also negated the posession advantage that usually comes from dominating faceoffs.
The Really, Really Good: Tommy Phelan was on fire with 12 saves, including several of the highlight-reel variety. Richie Meade felt that Phelan was the hot hand going into the game after this week’s practice, and his decision paid off.
The Better Than It Has Been Lately: For three quarters, Navy’s offense looked about as good schematically as it had all year. UNC’s defense was pushing out to challenge the Mids on the perimeter, which is the M.O. of a lot of teams the Mids have played lately. It led to some lousy passing and catching, but Navy also took advantage with much better shot opportunities than we’ve seen in the last several weeks. Tim Paul was the primary beneficiary with 4 goals, but the Mids generated a few shots from near point-blank range– something you’d expect to open up with a stretched-out defense. Unfortunately, Paul’s 4 goals were all that Navy’s set offense could generate.
The Ugly: That’s because Navy is probably the worst shooting team of any that is regularly in the top 10-15. Grant Zimmerman did make some nice saves, no doubt. But he didn’t always have to. Doesn’t it seem a little unusual that opposing goalies always seem to have career days against Navy? Think back to Bucknell, the second half of Maryland, Army, Hopkins, or even as far back as VMI and Mount St. Mary’s. Some good goalies, to be sure. But when great goalie play seems to be the norm, you start to wonder… Maybe it’s us. I’m not sure how to fix the problem, but it sure doesn’t seem like the Navy offense makes goalies work too hard. Johns Hopkins is good enough offensively that Navy will need to capitalize on those point-blank opportunities in order to keep up.
The incredibly frustrating: Navy went up 7-4 after 3 quarters, thanks to Paul’s 4 goals, a goal in transition by longpole Zack Schroeder, and a couple of gifts courtesy of Grant Zimmerman. Predictably, Navy put the brakes on the offense and stopped looking for shots.
SHOTS BY PERIOD 1 2 3 4 Tot
Navy……………………. 11 12 15 3 – 41
North Carolina……….. 4 13 4 12 – 33
That includes 0 shots taken on a :30 EMO with about 10 minutes left in the quarter. And just as predictably, UNC fought their way back into the game, scoring three goals in the 4th. Fortunately for Navy, Nick Mirabito capitalized on an incredible gaffe in the UNC clearing game that left him with an empty net to shoot on. Otherwise, I might be writing a different story right now.
Let’s break this down a little bit. Navy had leads going into the 4th quarter against 5 teams that made the NCAA tournament field– Ohio State, Cornell, Colgate, Maryland, and UNC. In the 4th quarter of those games, Navy was outscored 13-4. The Colgate game was pretty much already out of reach. Against Ohio State and Cornell, Navy lost the lead. Against Maryland and UNC, both teams drew within a goal and had posession with a chance to score at the end of the game before making mistakes that ran the clock out. Navy lost a 6-2 lead against Ohio State, a 7-4 lead against Cornell, and put Maryland and UNC in position to tie the game after having 2nd half leads of 5-0 and 7-4, respectively. Whatever happened to putting an opponent away? The counter argument is that at that point, it’s more important to posess the ball than it is to shoot. But the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Turnover stats weren’t kept in the Ohio State game for some reason, but in the other 4 games, Navy averaged 3.83 turnovers per quarter through the first 3 quarters. In the 4th quarters of those games, Navy averaged 7 turnovers. Navy does a better job of maintaining posession when they’re actually trying to score. The same was true on Saturday, as long Navy posessions set the tone for the game in the first half. Defenses take more chances trying to get the ball back when they’re behind late in games, so it makes sense that they’d force more turnovers in the 4th quarter. But the flip side of taking chances is supposed to be that the opposing offense will make you pay, since playing too aggressively will create holes in the defense. After scoring only 4 4th-quarter goals in those 5 games, Navy doesn’t do that. They allow the defense to dictate instead of pressuring them right back. Consequently, no lead is seemingly ever safe against a team that’s any good.
Of course, I pray that Navy is in position to blow a lead against Johns Hopkins this weekend, since that would be a huge improvement over the Mids’ last performance against the Jays. When you think about it, things are shaping up about as well as Navy fans could have hoped for. We had a first-round game against a UNC team that Navy had historically played well against, had a hit-or-miss offense, and was badly overseeded at #4. And now we have another crack at Johns Hopkins, which is always a welcome opportunity. The seniors have an opportunity to wash the bad taste of the last Hopkins game out of their mouths, having been given a second chance that you just know they’re fired up about. And they get it at home in front of what will probably be a crowd of 20,000+. After the miserable way the regular season ended, could things have worked out any better? I don’t think so.