MLAX : Emphasis on earning extra possessions results in superb performance by Orange defense

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments VILLANOVA, Pa. – During the week of practices leading up to Syracuse’s game against Villanova, SU players were constantly reminded about the importance of gaining one more possession than the opposing team.The pressure of needing a win to keep its season alive amplified the importance of the possession battle for the Orange.And that sense of urgency may have been just what Syracuse needed.‘We’ve been reminded all week and all year that we’ve been losing the ground ball battle and that’s not something that Syracuse lacrosse likes to do,’ SU midfielder Bobby Eilers said. ‘We’ve been taking that to heart, Coach (John Desko) has been getting on us, the players have been getting on each other and that’s something we want to win.’The third-seeded Orange (8-7) used a gritty defensive performance to gather loose balls and wipe out the No. 2 seed Wildcats 15-6 in the Big East semifinals at Villanova Stadium on Thursday. The Syracuse defense continuously harassed the Villanova (8-7) attack, knocking the ball free and pressuring it into ill-advised shots and, consequently, the SU attack hit its stride.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe Orange held a 41-22 advantage in corralling ground balls spurred by an improvement at the faceoff X. Ricky Buhr took 20 of the team’s 25 faceoffs, winning over 50 percent of his draws.‘That’s a huge stat for us,’ Desko said of his team’s efficiency grabbing ground balls.’It just shows that we played with a sense of urgency today, we played a lot smarter and got half the turnovers we’ve had over the last few games.’The possession battle ultimately boiled down to an all-around smothering performance by Syracuse’s defense. Junior defender Brian Megill kept All-Big East Attack of the Year Kevin Cunningham in check, holding him to one goal on five shots. The Orange forced the Wildcats into careless mistakes by pressing out on the shooters and limiting the space they had to operate.It was a dramatic turn of events from the first time the two teams played. Cunningham, attacks Jack Rice and Will Casertano had their way with SU’s defense on March 25. Cunningham consistently found one of his teammates slicing to the net for easy looks. Syracuse lost the faceoff battle and the Villanova attack took advantage, winning 11-10.This time, all of that fell in Syracuse’s favor.The Orange knocked the ball free, forced bad shots and took the ball the other way.And as the pressure got under the skin of the Villanova attack, the Syracuse offense benefitted. The Orange held a 30-20 edge in shots through three quarters as a result of its constant pressure and focus on loose balls.‘I thought they did a great job possessing the ball,’ Rice said. ‘They were pressing us out a little more than they were doing last time and I think that that sort of screwed us up.Syracuse goaltender Bobby Wardwell said that the team’s renewed focus at practice sparked the success on the defensive end of the field.Wardwell did his part, as well. The freshman goaltender made his first save of the game when Michael Vigilante fired a shot from his hip that Wardwell knocked down and covered up. It set the stage for the rest of the game. Wardwell made 12 saves on 18 shots including all five stops in fourth quarter to keep the momentum on SU’s side.‘We worked hard in practice all week, really worked with the picks and everything and that’s one thing we focused on,’ Wardwell said.’I think we knew our matchups a little better this time and the defense as a whole communicated really well tonight.’And the newfound success in earning possession that had been absent for nearly all season carried Syracuse forward. The defense stood tall and with additional chances in the attacking zone, SU put the ball in the back of the net.The special attention to ground balls paid off.Said Desko: ‘We had equal opportunities to score goals and it hadn’t been that way all year.’[email protected]center_img Published on May 3, 2012 at 12:00 pmlast_img read more