March 26, 2008

M. Lax Takes Down Binghamton

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Hidden amongst a sleepy afternoon game that included only five second-half goals were several signs that the men’s lacrosse team is making progress achieving its potential that has showed through at times this season. Cornell’s 12-5 win over Binghamton saw some much-desired energy early on, a lockdown defense later and the continued emergence of some players looking to define their roles better.
“I felt like early, at least for the first 15-20 minutes, [the players] were working hard, which we didn’t get a whole lot of during Saturday’s game against Yale,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni.
Saturday’s game, an 8-7 overtime win over the Bulldogs, saw the Red jump out to an early 4-0 lead then go into hiding offensively as Yale stormed back before a few late goals got the game into overtime. Yesterday, though, it seemed like those offensive woes had been solved. Sophomore Ryan Hurley continued his emergence as the team’s leading scorer with four, while junior Kyle Doctor and senior John Espey each chipped in three points.
Tambroni often comments that when the offense struggles, it is due to poor off-ball movement, too much one-on-one play and not reacting to slides by rotating the ball. The Red did all of this in the first quarter against Binghamton.[img_assist|nid=29127|title=Field vision|desc=Senior attacker John Espey (9) had one goal and two assists to lead the Red with three points against visiting Binghamton.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We came out this week … and focused on a point that Coach Tambroni harped on,” said junior attacker Chris Ritchie, who had two goals and an assist in the first quarter on his way to four total points. “The first five goals here today we really moved as an offense.”
“The first quarter, not only were we diving hard, we were moving out of each other’s way and creating good backside, off-ball opportunities unlike the second, third and fourth quarter,” Tambroni said.
As Tambroni alluded to, however, this trend did not last throughout the whole game. Ritchie said that the attackers were dodging on their own, not trying to play off one another. Tambroni pointed out that a lack of ball movement makes an offense much easier to defend.
“Proabably the worst thing we do offensively is move off the ball,” he said. “We’ve been a fairly stagnant offense. If you are a stagnant offense, you become much easier to cover. After the first quarter, I thought we became much easier to guard. We didn’t allow our athletes to be athletes and create. We were getting in each other’s ways and not creating space.”
Last season when Cornell couldn’t create during its offensive sets, it could rely on the goals off broken plays and hustle plays. The Red hasn’t seen as many of that kind of goals this year, making it harder to pull away from teams.
“Last year we got a lot of goals off of transitions and face-offs and we tended to stretch our leads by doing some of the little things that we’re not doing right now,” Tambroni said.
And while Cornell didn’t stretch its lead, Binghamton brought itself right back into the fold, scoring three out of the first four goals in the second quarter. The Bearcats got back in the game but breaking down the Red’s defensive pressure, which was focused on pushing the attackers away from the net.
“A lot of it was that our game plan originally was to be in more of a press out defense,” said senior Matt Moyer, Cornell’s primary long-stick defender. “I think we sloughed off a little bit too much on the crease in the second quarter and kind of looked to slide a little bit more than we needed to which allowed them to get those easy looks inside because guys weren’t covering up on the crease.”
Binghamton scored four goals in the period, the final three right in the crease. Chris Mulheron slipped in twice behind the defense. The first time he dodged past his defender from behind the cage where he danced briefly in front of senior goalie Jake Myers before burying the shot, and the second time he got a shovel pass right in front of the net from Jake Boyce after Boyce drew defenders over to him.
“We didn’t protect our goalie very well in the second quarter — a goalie that is still trying to grow and get some game experience,” Tambroni said. “To give up several goals like that within four or five yards like that is difficult to swallow.”
One of the reasons Binghamton was able to feed the ball into the crease so frequently was its ability to break through the double teams Cornell tried to impose off of the Bearcats’ picks. It was the second game in a row the Red’s opponent had succeeded to break down Cornell’s defensive pressure, something Tambroni noted.
“We tried to get a little bit too aggressive during pick play and Binghamton, to their credit, broke it two or three times,” Tambroni said. “They broke our double team off the pick and were able to find people open inside.”
But Cornell righted the ship after halftime, particularly on the defensive end.
“We just made the adjustment and told the guys ‘Hey, let’s keep our men on the crease and let our guys handle the matchups,’” Moyer said.
With more defenders packed in front of the cage, it put a larger defensive load on the shoulders of other players. And they stepped up.
“[Junior] Nick Gradinger did a great job handling his matchup, as did [sophomore] Max Dorne off the bench and [sophomore] did Pierce Derkak too,” Moyer said.
Binghamton’s offense, which had 12 shots at halftime, only got two in the third quarter and five in the fourth. They couldn’t score simply because they had no opportunities.
Doctor put the game out of reach when he netted two goals in the span of 12 seconds as the third quarter clock ran down. After slipping a shot past Binghamton goalie Larry Kline with 15 second left on the clock, Doctor got the ball back quickly when junior George Calvert picked up the loose ball off the next face-off. Doctor streaked toward the cage and slung a shot past Kline’s ankles to make it 11-4 and seemingly seal the deal.
“Coming off of Saturday’s performance where we didn’t feel like we played all that well in the final 51 minutes it was nice to have another game at home today where our guys could just recharge and reenergize, and try to get back to the basics,” Tambroni said.