The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s lacrosse team earned their first-ever berth in the NCAA men’s lacrosse finals after mounting a furious comeback against the Towson Tigers Saturday in Foxboro. Ohio State came back from an 8-3 deficit in the third to win by a final score of 11-10. After starting the season unranked, the Buckeyes improve to 16-4 on the year--a program-best for wins in a season.
The Buckeyes will now face the winner of No. 1 Maryland and No. 5 Denver Monday at 1 p.m. in Foxboro.
Ohio State entered the game as the No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, having beaten Loyola (Md.) and Duke in the first two rounds. Towson, who earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as winners of the Colonial Athletic Conference Tournament, beat Penn State then, surprisingly, Syracuse--the No, 2 seed. The Buckeyes had previously defeated Towson by a score of 6-3 on the road in March.
Senior specialist Jake Withers, a second-team All-American honoree, won the opening faceoff for the Buckeyes, but the Tigers forced a turnover almost immediately to take the ball on attack. While Ohio State is no slouch on defense, Towson boasts the nation’s third-best scoring defense, allowing just 7.44 goals per game — something that was apparent from the outset as the Buckeyes struggled to even establish an offensive possession early in the first. With two early turnovers and two penalties on their first two possessions, it was a slow start or Ohio State, culminating in a Towson goal on a two man-up opportunity.
Withers won the ensuing faceoff and got off a furious shot that went out of bounds to start Ohio State’s first true offensive possession. But the Towson defense proved too strong as sophomore attackman Jack Jasinski turned the ball over. Junior defenseman Ben Randall, the first, first-team All-American in program history, got the ball back on a groundball, and cleared the ball successfully. Jasinski then found the back of the net for the Buckeyes’ first score of the day,
On the team’s next possession, Withers took the faceoff down on offense and threaded a pass through the Towson defense for sophomore midfielder Logan Maccani to score right down the middle to take their first lead of the day midway through the first quarter. After trading possessions, Towson scored on a controversial goal to tie things back up with 1:52 remaining in the first. With the Tigers winning the next faceoff, Carey made a huge save with the shot clock on to keep the Buckeyes tied two-all heading into the second quarter.
Towson took control of the second-quarter faceoff and scored to take a one-goal lead, catching the Buckeye defense off-guard. Withers won the ensuing draw to give the Buckeyes possession on attack, but another forced turnover on Jasinski gave Towson the ball, and another quick score gave the Tigers a 4-2 lead. After yet another faceoff win, Towson took their time on offense before scoring their fourth goal in under five minutes.
After a timeout by head coach Nick Myers, Withers won the faceoff and picked up the groundball for Ohio State’s possession. Then, midfielder Tre Leclaire, the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and Ohio State’s leading scorer on the season, scored unassisted to close Towson’s lead to two. But Towson got the ball right back and scored once again before Ohio State could even establish a double team.
Despite establishing subsequent possessions on attack, poor shooting by Ohio State gave the ball back to Towson, contributing to lopsided time of possession in favor of the Tigers. But spectacular play by Carey kept the score close, as the senior recorded eight saves in the first half. But, with 1:20 remaining in the second, Towson found the back of the net once more to head into the break leading 7-3.
The second half did not start much better for Ohio State. Despite winning the opening faceoff, Ohio State turned the ball over, and Towson scored to go up by five. But then, after a shot by Towson, the Buckeyes got the ball back on attack. Senior attackman Eric Fanell, the hero of Ohio State’s last outing against Duke, with the behind the back pass to Shanks for their first goal in nearly 16 minutes.
And that’s when the comeback started. After the next faceoff, a Towson shot off the post gave Ohio State possession as junior midfielder Bo Lori chased the groundball off the bounce. Lori found Leclaire on the quick transition as Leclaire hit his second goal of the game to pull the Buckeyes within three midway through the third. Withers won the next faceoff and, after a Towson penalty, Shanks hit his ninth man-up goal of the season, coming from behind the goal on a pass by Leclaire to close the gap to two with 5:25 left in the quarter. Then, after a shot by Leclaure, Fannell found the back of the net himself on a long, right-handed shot.
Towson stopped the Buckeyes’ four-goal run with a long shot against Carey. Withers won the faceoff and took the ball on attack for Ohio State. Then, with 1:50 left in the quarter, Fannell once again found his left-handed shot to stay on his second goal of the day, working consistently against the Towson defense to stay within one at the end of the third.
The teams traded possessions to open the fourth as the Buckeyes gained more momentum on offense and firmed up their defense. Then, after a forced turnover on Towson by senior midfielder John Kelly, Ohio State set up on attack. Leclaire then finished off his hat trick on a long, high shot from the outside to tie the game at nine-all. Withers once again prevailed on the faceoff, setting up Ohio State on attack. Senior midfielder J.T. Blubaugh then scored on a shot that bounced off the pipe with 10:20 remaining in the game to give Ohio State its first lead since the first quarter.
The Buckeyes won the ensuing faceoff, but Towson forced a turnover by senior midfielder Tyler Pfister. The defense, however, managed to hold the Tigers to a shot clock violation to get the ball back on attack. Senior midfielder Johnny Pearson then scored on a low shot with 6:10 left in the game to put the Buckeyes up two.
Ohio State gained the next possession on the faceoff and took their time settling the attack, but lost the ball on a shot clock violation. Towson then scored on their own possession to pull within one. Withers, right on cue, won the ensuing faceoff and maintained possession for Ohio State, but a save by Towson at the end of the shot clock gave the ball to Towson with under a minute remaining. Towson shot the ball wide with 15 seconds left and, though maintaining possession after, turned the ball over to seal the win for Ohio State.
Leclaire led the Buckeyes with three goals on the day. Fannell and Shanks were just behind with two goals apiece. Seven Buckeyes scored in total.
Carey, who kept his team in the game throughout the first half, finished the day with 10 saves on 20 shots on goal. Towson had six saves on 17 shots on goal. Overall shots were 40-35 in favor of Towson.
Withers also proved to be a difference maker, especially in the second half. He finished the day winning 15-of-25 faceoffs, and led the team with 10 of Ohio State’s 25 groundballs.