In lacrosse, coaches often cite one dimension as key to any victory: winning the ground ball game. Michigan men’s lacrosse coach Kevin Conry is no exception.
“This is a simple game. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball, so ground balls, that’s basically what dictates success.”
On a macro level, the Wolverines did an adequate job with ground balls during Saturday’s matchup against Ohio State, scooping up 24-of-50. But in the second quarter, Michigan only sequestered 4-of-18. And that 15-minute lapse was enough to seal its fate early on. The 17th-ranked Buckeyes won, 14-6, largely thanks to an influx of goal-scoring possessions that allowed them to outscore the Wolverines 7-0 in the quarter.
“They went on a little bit of a run with the faceoff game, but really it was about the ground balls, and they kicked our butts off the ground,” Conry said. “They got a little bit more juice in the tank I guess, but when you’re playing that much defense, it’s hard to stop them.”
Throughout the game’s opening stanza, the two sides appeared to be evenly matched, with Ohio State attackman Mitchell Pehlke and Wolverines’ graduate student midfielder Tyler Papa trading first-quarter goals.
As the second quarter was underway, though, Michigan failed to get the offensive possessions it needed to build momentum. While five inopportune turnovers didn’t bode well for the Wolverines, the majority of their struggles came amid unsettled ground ball play off the faceoff.
On numerous occasions, Michigan junior faceoff midfielder Nick Rowlett would win the clamp, only for Buckeye players to overpower him and his linemates and come away with the ground ball. As a result, the Wolverines won just 3-of-8 faceoffs in the second quarter — a damning blemish on their cumulative 13-of-24 record on the day.
On the flip side, Ohio State converted its hard-earned possessions into goals, rattling off four tallies in the first five minutes of the quarter to jump out to a 5-1 lead. Michigan rotated in freshman faceoff midfielder Justin Wietfeldt and junior long-stick midfielder Gavin Legg to try to shake up its luck at the X, but with the exception of a huge, bench-energizing hit from Legg near the Wolverines’ sideline, neither effectively assisted in slowing the Buckeyes down.
When the dust had settled heading into the half, Ohio State led 8-1 and, having outshot Michigan 19-6 in the second quarter, looked to be in firm control of the contest.
“Give credit to (the Buckeyes) and why they were able to attack us in that quarter and use the emotional lift,” Conry said. “They played hard. They played physical.”
After a disastrous second quarter, the Wolverines entered the second half reinvigorated, and their newfound energy and physicality were evident in improved ground ball play. Following goals from freshman midfielder Grant McCurry, freshman attackman Michael Boehm and junior attackman Bryce Clay, Legg scooped up a ground ball off the faceoff and dished it to Rowlett, who raced down the field and fired a shot past goalkeeper Alec Van de Bovenkamp to cut Ohio State’s lead to five, 10-5.
Still, it wasn’t enough. Despite a man-down goal from sophomore midfielder Jake Bonomi and gritty play from Clay — who had come up with two of Michigan’s eight ground balls in the half to that point — the Buckeyes had built up too great a lead in the second quarter.
Without the second quarter, it would have been a different game. The Buckeyes would have only led Michigan by one goal, 7-6, and the Wolverines would have won the ground ball game, having secured 20-of-32.
“We don’t play three periods in lacrosse,” Conry said. “We play four quarters and 60 minutes. We didn’t do our job for (all) 60 minutes, so that’s the way it is.”