The Black Knights went through a highly stressful semifinal match-up against Loyola, but the good guys ultimately prevailed in what has become typical Loyola-versus-Army-in-the-playoffs fashion. Now we headed to the Patriot League Championship Finals and a return date with the Terriers of Boston University.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
BU clinched their first ever trip to the Patriot League Finals in overtime against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in dramatic fashion. An unlikely offhand goal from a not-so household-name player pushed the Terriers into the final in a game that was a rollercoaster to watch. It seemed at times that BU had the game in hand, leading by as many as five and leaving Lehigh without an answer. That was until Lehigh FOGO Mike Sisselberger rattled off a bunch of face-off wins, converting multiple goals in a row.
But hey. Great players make great plays. We knew this.
The Mountainhawks forced overtime but couldn’t quite close the deal, and as noted, BU advanced to the finals. Coming off such an emotionally charged game and given that this is their first ever trip to the finals, expect these Terriers to come in hot this afternoon.
Army Needs to Be Animal Control
Last time out, Army found a way to win despite getting down 4-0 in the first quarter. That was the first time all season that the Black Knights had found themselves scoreless in the first frame. Not normally a recipe for success. But credit this team’s drive and tenacity; these guys are good enough that no game is ever truly over at any point.
How is this Army team going to cool down the four big-time players BU has relied on all season? In the first matchup just a week ago, Army played great on-ball defense against all four guys — Tim Ley, Vince D’alto, Louis Perfetto, and Christian Quadrino. In this game, keeping those same guys off the scoresheet as much as possible will be key in forcing other Terriers to make plays. Keeping those four with four poles on them is probably Army’s best bet, at least to start.
Another matchup that gave Army problems last time out came with their short-stick defensive midfielders (SSDMs), especially James Pryor, against Thomas Niedringhaus in the middle of the field. Niedringhaus stung Army’s defense with dodges through the middle for *3* goals plus an assist last Friday. That can’t happen again if the Black Knights want to walk out with a victory.
Finally, Army needs to limit BU’s inside shooting. The Terriers flourish on offense when their small, shifty guys can get back-door looks off quick ball movement inside. If the Black Knights can force more passes around and more outside shots, they’ll knock BU off their rhythm and make saves easier for G Wyatt Schupler. This might create the kind of chaos that the Army defense can use to get ground balls and take control of this contest.
Speaking of chaos, the most chaotic part of the game comes in transition — and it might also have the most impact. As we saw last time, BU loves the ten man ride. The Terriers like to pull their goalie to play the closest attackman, so a long pole defender can roam the center of the field and trap the guy trying to clear the ball. When run well, this creates a nightmare for opposing teams trying to clear off a turnover.
Army broke this last week by shooting from distance and backing up the shot to get possession. However, that is a high risk, high reward play. Sure, it might score quickly, but there’s also an opportunity for the ride to bat the ball down or for some kind of miscue to prevent the shot from being backed-up.
The Black Knights need to be successful enough when shooting from distance that it forces BU to play a more traditional clearing game. Alas, we’ll have to watch this closely to see which side will be most successful on transition.
Oh by the way, the other piece of transition play that Army needs badly comes from their faceoff unit. We’ve talked about this time and time again, but as we’ve seen in all these games down the stretch, faceoffs can make or break outcomes.
FOGO Will Colletti will be facing off against BU’s Conor Calderone for the second time in just over a week. We saw a good bit of feeling out last time before Colletti established a rhythm. Both sides ought to be ready this time, but we’re still liable to see a mess off the starts. Good wing play off the faceoffs might be the decisive piece in establishing possession and ultimately in winning this game.
𝗕𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗻 𝗡𝗶𝗰𝗵𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻 = 𝗨𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲— USA Lacrosse Magazine (@USALacrosseMag) May 7, 2022
The @Tewaaraton candidate put @ArmyWP_MLax on his back with 4G, 5A in a 14-13 @PatriotLeague semifinal win over Loyola. Bobby Abshire added 4G on 4-for-7 shooting as Army dug out of early 4-0 hole. Will play BU in final. pic.twitter.com/jkJSGkbu5v
Evan Washburn had some great commentary on Army star Attacker Brendan Nichtern during the Loyola game. Washburn talked about how opposing teams need to turn Nichtern into a scorer and shooter earlier because if Nichtern starts the game feeding from behind the net and finding his guys, the scoring rhythm is established, and Army’s offense is tough to beat. Indeed, we saw that Thursday against the Greyhounds, when Nichtern put up 4 goals and 5 assists. He flat took over the game in its waning minutes.
But Nichtern can’t do it all, and in this game, the match-up to watch is on the outside with Bobby Abshire. Everyone knows Jacob Morin can shoot from outside with deadly accuracy, so BU is going to have to press out on him straight away. However, Abshire has shown that he can not only shoot from afar, he can also dodge and score like any top-tier attackman. Whoever is matched up on Abshire, the key to look at is how far out they play him. If they press out, expect Abshire to have another monster game scoring acrobatic and downright filthy goals.
This is it, Army fans. Win and you’re into the NCAA Tournament.
Expect a dogfight throughout where both teams go on runs. It’s going to be a fun one. We can’t wait to watch the Black Knights make it to the big dance again.
The game starts at noon. CBS Sports has coverage.
Brendan Nichtern is the second Black Knight to win the #PatriotMLAX Offensive Player of the Year award twice and the fifth @PatriotLeague student-athlete to win the award in consecutive seasons.#GoArmy | #FamilyToughnessTradition pic.twitter.com/ufZ3vaa6G9— Army Men's Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) May 5, 2022
Go Army! Beat BU!!!
Side note: Army hasn’t lost to a team with a dog as their mascot all year (BU, Siena, Loyola x2). Let’s not start now.
Cover image via Twitter (Army Men’s Lacrosse).