Loyola's slowdown strategy almost backfired in Saturday's win vs. Denver

Pioneers trimmed deficit to one, but top-seeded Greyhounds held on for 10-9 decision and trip to Final Four

May 21, 2012|By Edward Lee

With about six minutes left in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal in Annapolis and Loyola nursing a 10-8 lead, coach Charley Toomey did what many others would have – and have – done in his position. He took the air out of the ball, played keep-away, and forced Denver to double-team, thereby leaving the net open for an easy goal.

That strategy, however, almost backfired on the top-seeded Greyhounds.

Denver forced a turnover and turned that miscue into a goal by freshman midfielder Wes Berg with 2:43 remaining. Another Loyola turnover forced sophomore goalkeeper Jack Runkel to use his chest to stop a shot by Berg with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter. Finally, a poor decision by junior midfielder Davis Butts with 24 seconds remaining led to another Greyhounds turnover, but sophomore defenseman Joe Fletcher blocked junior midfielder Cameron Flint’s blast about a shade more than 10 yards to cement the 10-9 victory.

Coach Charley Toomey conceded that pulling back the reins on a team that has long been fast-paced, transition squad may not have been a good idea.

“Although we don’t want to be a team that slows the ball down, we wanted to make sure that we were getting good looks and that we weren’t going to take the first shot, we were going to take the best shot,” he said. “… I thought we hit a couple pipes, and I thought that the young man in [freshman goalie Ryan] LaPlante there made some terrific saves to keep them in it and to keep the ball in a transition game where we had to get a few more stops than we would’ve liked. It’s tough to slow the ball down, especially when you’re a team that wants to run. But while you’re moving forward through May, you have to be able to adjust, you have to be able to play different types of games. … They handled the situation.”

Butts’ shot was severely misguided as he attempted a turnaround, jump shot from the left wing while being hounded by two Denver defenders. But Toomey defended Butts.

“The thought was, if there’s an open net, shoot the ball,” Toomey recalled. “I don’t think he really had the open net that maybe he thought he did. But those are quick decisions that young men are asked to make in the heat of battle, and you’ve got nine other guys who were willing to dig in and get the ball back.”

Loyola’s slowdown strategy would have worked if the players had been better at protecting the ball. Flint said the Greyhounds’ decision actually benefited the Pioneers.

“From our experience, whenever we’ve been up and we hold the ball, it’s hard to hold onto the ball for consecutive minutes, especially when they start holding it at six minutes or so,” he said. “It’s not so easy to hold that ball without getting stripped and especially when you’re getting double-teamed. So I think that did help us a little bit because we had a few caused turnovers there.”

Senior faceoff specialist J.P. Dalton said his confidence and that of his teammates in Toomey’s plan never wavered.

“Coach gives us a plan, and there’s a lot of faith in the locker room,” Dalton said. “Not once did we doubt or get scared about something that we usually don’t usually do. I think the whole feeling on the sideline was, ‘This is our plan, and this is what we’re going to do.’ I think in that last five minutes, we only gave up one goal. To hold the ball and for them to have two good possessions and only score one goal, that says a lot about our defense and a lot about the discipline and focus on the field.”

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