By MAT SCHLISSEL
On Saturday, March 17 on Long Island, the Tiger men's lacrosse team jumped out to a strong start against Stony Brook, opening up a 7-4 lead before holding on for a 10-9 win. The first goal (Sean Maguire) came with 7:46 left in the first quarter.
On Wednesday night against Mercer, Towson jumped out to a 3-0 lead, before trouncing the Bears, 17-8. They opened the game with junior face-off man Ian Mills winning the draw and feeding senior Matt Lamon who scored with just five seconds into the game.
On Saturday night against Delaware at Unitas Stadium, Mills did it again. He won the opening draw and fed Lamon, who shot the ball past Blue Hens' goalkeeper Chris Herbert just four seconds into the game.
The Tigers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, led 7-4 at the half and ended up winning 13-8, improving to 5-3 on the season and 1-0 in the CAA.
"Getting (a goal in) four seconds in is obviously huge," said Towson Coach Shawn Nadelen. "But it can also come back to bite you at times when you get too emotional early on. That 3-goal lead allowed us to get comfortable. I think our team really handled the emotional side of the game well and the execution side against Delaware."
Lamon's goal within four seconds to start the game was not the fastest goal scored in men's Division I lacrosse history. In 2006, Delaware's Jordan Hall scored within three seconds to start the game against Albany. The face-off man for Delaware at the time was Alex Smith, who is the NCAA's all-time leader in face-offs won and face-offs won in one season.
Delaware also has the record for highest percentage of face-offs won in a career (70.7% Steve Shaw, 1983-86). Towson has the record for highest face-off percentage in one season (Mark Goers in 1994 with 77.6%).
So when the Tigers and the Blue Hens got together, face-offs were going to be a huge factor. As a team, the Tigers won 45.5% of their face-offs last season. Coming into the Delaware game, they had improved on that number, winning 52.2%. But facing a Delaware team that was normally strong on face-offs (59%), it was going to be a tough challenge.
Yet Mills was the player who was willing to step up to the plate. Despite injuring his ankle on Wednesday night against Mercer and spending the second half on the sidelines on crutches.
Mills won 17-of-25 face-offs, including winning 11-of-13 in the first half. Once again, getting off to a strong start and having a dominant face-off man set the tone for the Tigers was instrumental in winning a lacrosse game.
"I would have come back in that game (Mercer) if it was closer," said MIlls about his ankle injury. "It wasn't a serious injury. As long as I'm given the green light and they can tape it up, I'm ready to go. I sat out (the 2010 season) with an ACL and that's the worse feeling in the world, not being able to compete. If I'm given the green light, I'm going out to play."
Since Mills took over as the number one face-off man against Stony Brook, he has won 40 of 57 draws and the Tigers have won all three games.
"I hold myself to a high standard," said Mills who has won 52 of 78 this season (66.6%)."I've been given a tremendous opportunity by our coaches to go out there and be the face-off guy. That's a huge aspect of this game. Even though I went 17-of-25, I had one turnover and one face-off that led to a goal. These are things that I have to improve on to not put my team in that situation. I'm 3-of-7 in the fourth quarter and that's me putting my team in the hole. Just stringing together a whole game is something I need to do."
Mills has taken advantage of his opportunities at the face-off X and Towson's offense is now getting more possessions and more shots. They had 36 shots and converted 13 for goals (36%). For the season, Towson now has a 37.3% shooting percentage compared to 23.7% last year.
The Tigers had five players score two goals in Maguire, Lamon, sophomores Andrew Hodgson and Thomas DeNapoli as well as redshirt freshman Robby Zoppo. They don't have a player with over 20 goals or over 20 points but they do have have six players with eight or more goals.
"Our captain Carl Iacona says early and often," said junior attackman Matt Hughes, who had one assist against Delaware and has 10 goals and seven assists on the season. "We have a lot of good shooters. After a 3-10 season last year, our shooting wasn't the best and it was reflected by the record. Now we're among the top five or six in the nation. That's why we're winning games."
Winning face-offs, shooting a good percentage, getting strong goaltending, clearing the ball, scoring on extra-man situations (50% on year) and playing strong man-down defense (10-of-27, 37%) are all keys as the Tigers move forward.
"All guys are buying into what we're asking of them," said Nadelen. "Everybody knows that they have a certain role we are asking from them. They're going to contribute one way or the other. Whether it's initiating or feeding the ball."