Michigan offense struggles in loss to Ohio State
Just when it looked like the ball would sneak into the net, Tommy Heidt reached behind himself and trapped it against the ground.
The senior goalkeeper prevented Ohio State (1-2 Big Ten, 6-6 overall) from taking the lead over the No. 20 Michigan men’s lacrosse team in the second quarter of Friday night’s game, but the Wolverines ultimately lost, 8-5.
Michigan (0-3 Big Ten, 7-5 overall) gave up three goals in the first quarter while adding only one of its own, when junior midfielder Brent Noseworthy found twine on a man-up opportunity late in the opening stanza.
But once Heidt settled in and stood tall in the cage, the Buckeyes had to fight to score. Heidt’s ten first-half saves — sometimes in dramatic fashion — marked his highest save total in a first half this season.
“Tommy Heidt was the real show today,” said Michigan coach Kevin Conry. “He had 15 saves, kept guys in the game, had fantastic energy regardless of the situation and really held command of the defense and the whole game. He was a real star today.”
While Heidt was controlling the defense, the Wolverines’ offense struggled to get going. Then, junior midfielder Decker Curran notched his first score of the day at the 12:27 mark of the second quarter, cutting Michigan’s deficit to only one.
Ten minutes later, freshman attacker Alex Buckanavage scored on a roll-out from behind the goal, getting underneath the defender to slip the ball between Ohio State goalkeeper Josh Kirson’s legs and tie the game.
Though the Wolverines held the Buckeyes scoreless for a nearly 29-minute stretch going from 6:20 remaining in the first quarter through eight minutes into the third, frequent turnovers kept Michigan from earning a lead.
“In the third quarter, we kept turning the ball over in the offensive end and in the clearing game, which kept giving them second-chance opportunities,” Conry said. “Big Ten lacrosse is such a well-coached — such a tough conference that if you start giving teams multiple second-chance opportunities, they’re good enough to take advantage of it.”
Though freshman Connor Cronin has had success at the faceoff dot throughout the season, he struggled to win faceoffs in the second half. The difficulty limited offensive opportunities and required a lot of work from the defense, which wore down in the third quarter and allowed four goals.
“Connor Cronin’s been doing such a great job for us, and wing play has been so vital in all of our wins,” Conry said. “But when you’re playing defense over and over and over again, the guys wear down, and they’re the same guys we rely on to go up and take wings. I don’t think it was anything Connor did specifically, I think it was more just the three-man game got a little bit less effective.”
The lone Michigan goal in the third quarter came from junior attacker Rocco Sutherland to put the Wolverines at a 7-4 deficit. Curran added his second score of the day halfway through the fourth period, but it proved to be too little, too late.
Turnovers ultimately doomed Michigan, as it could not capitalize on its opportunities in the fourth quarter, adding just one goal on seven shots while committing three turnovers.
“It’s our discipline and our attention to detail,” Conry said. “Right now, we’re just kinda doing some silly things … we’re just a young, inexperienced group who is playing in the best conference in lacrosse against some of the best teams in the country. And when you play against those teams, a lot of the turnovers that we were having earlier on in the season that weren’t getting exposed are starting to get exposed now.”
The turnover issue in Friday’s game is the continuation of a theme for the Wolverines, who have had double-digit turnovers in all three Big Ten games so far. With just two regular season games remaining, the issue has become top priority for Conry.
“We’ve been going back to basics the better part of two weeks here, and it’s already starting to show,” Conry said. “We’re down a couple turnovers. We didn’t have 18 today, we didn’t have 15, we had 13, so there is some marginal improvement there.
“If we can just keep chipping away at these turnovers, then we’re gonna be in a better position with our hands free and take good, fundamental shots. And once that happens, we’ll see the wins start to fall.”
The next two weeks will tell if the wins will fall in time for Michigan to earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, but with No. 4 Johns Hopkins coming to town next week, it may need more than fewer turnovers to notch a win.