It was a tight first half, but the Buckeyes pulled away with 4 unanswered goals in the 3rd quarter to secure an 11-7 victory over a game UMass squad in Amherst.
The game was sloppy, filled with turnovers, and frenetic at times, but the good guys came away with a victory thanks to second half adjustments. Let's dig into it.
The score probably should have been more lopsided in the Buckeyes favor, but it shows how good the team was in the 2nd half. Tied at 6 through 2 quarters, the team rallied behind an exceptional goalie performance from RS Sophomore Josh Kirson to put the game away in the 3rd.
Last year, Ohio State really, really struggled in the middle quarters, but they reversed that trend this year to really put UMass on the back foot.
Offensively, Ohio State did well in spurts, then really struggled for stretches. The offensive middies had problems dealing with the defense athletically. Very few dodges went anywhere, and there was hardly any separation most of the time.
The first half was a combination of transition play and throwback skip passes to get Tre Leclaire the ball most of the time. Jack Jasinski had a couple of shining moments where he scored off the dodge, using his defender as a screen to throw off the UMass keeper just enough to tally a goal.
Johnny Wiseman scored his first collegiate goal on a lefty step-down shot, putting away a nice Jack Myers feed to do so.
In the second half, Ohio State made a couple adjustments that really turned the game. Pat Myers, now at Lafayette, had a talk going over positionless lacrosse a few years ago, where he spoke about various means of manipulating the defense through fades.
That remnant came back as the Buckeyes used UMass' aggressiveness against them to get quick stepdowns off of oblique dodges from X and across the middle.
UMass would slide a little early to try and get the quick double, only to see the ball pushed ahead to a newly wide-open shooter who would rip it home. Leclaire scored this way, and hit 2 or 3 pipes as well in the 3rd.
The 4th quarter was easily the worst offensively, though that had more to do with sloppy clearing and rushed efforts than anything personnel or scheme-wise.
The defensive effort was outstanding, otherwise the offense could have let UMass right back into the game.
Overall, this was a big step forward, even though the stats are a bit deceptive. OSU shot 26% for the game, but had an astounding 76% of the shots be on goal.
UMass' keeper had 20 saves, and was really keeping the Minutemen in it, even after the 4-goal blitz by OSU in the 3rd. I think 5 or 6 shots hit the post as well, making the 11 goals all the more impressive, as it could easily have been 16 or 17.
Defensively, Ohio State was up and down all game as well. The first half was pretty bad. The team was out of sorts, with LSM being a real sore spot. UMass would dodge, then quickly spin the ball through X to the backside for a new attack angle.
And the LSMs really struggled to defend the subsequent dodge. Both Evan Riss and Caleb Mahoney had problems on their approaches, lunging over and over to get beat cleanly.
It was difficult to watch after Freibott's efforts last year. And Jeff Trainor was beating the SSDMs cleanly, getting 5 yards on Maccani twice for his goals today.
UMass also did a great job in the first half of capitalizing on chaos. Every unsettled situation went their way, resulting in easy goals on the crease from Gabriel Procyk.
The freshman had an easy time, picking spots to score routine goals. That all changed in the 2nd half.
From the start, Ohio State looked much better defensively in the 2nd half. Part of that may have been using Omari DeBerry a bit more, to offset the Minutemen's athleticism, but the defense was also much more organized and disciplined.
UMass had a couple possessions without a single shot generated because the Buckeyes clamped down. Touted sophomore Chris Connolly ended the day with just two assists and a single shot, remarkable after his 70 point season last year.
Josh Kirson really did a lot in 3rd quarter, making 8 saves and keeping the Minutemen off the board completely. Only a Billy Philpott tally prevented the Minutemen from being shut out in the 2nd half.
The Buckeyes really struggled to clear consistently in the 2nd half, giving UMass multiple chances to convert with needless turnovers.
But, keeping the Minutemen to 7 goals is an outstanding achievement.
Matt Borges did a great job and deserves special mention. He ended several UMass possessions single-handedly, and was a force all game.
The biggest weakness right now is LSM, and that just may be a flaw we see all year. Hopefully the staff can get it locked up soon.
At the faceoff X, Justin Inacio went 14 for 22, and really should have been even better than that. Some issues with wing play lost the Buckeyes a couple faceoffs where Inacio won the clamp.
After an odd struggle against Cleveland State, Inacio has gone over 60% the past two games, and really dictated the game against UMass. He continues to be an important part of what OSU wants to do, and will be instrumental to any run the Buckeyes make.
Special teams this week were off the charts. Ohio State really impressed me, by only committing two penalties and stopping UMass both times.
On the flip side, Ohio State converted both of their opportunities, including a fantastic inside finish by everyone's favorite SSDM Ryan Terefenko. It was a tremendous difference from the previous two games, and I think really played a part in how well the game went today.
If Ohio State can sustain this level of success, it will be a great, great season.
Finally, I can't say enough good things about how well Josh Kirson played today. He has had his struggles, but really came through in the clutch this afternoon.
Kirson came out this week and put up 17 saves, for a save percentage of 70%, and really looked comfortable in goal. It was fantastic to see him do so well, especially in a frenetic game with lots going on around him, and he probably shut the door on Skylar Wahlund for now.
If Kirson keeps it up, we could see the Buckeyes go deep into May.
All in all, this was a marquee win over a tough progr, and there is a lot for Ohio State to be build on moving into the coming week.
A showdown against Bucknell in Columbus looms, and it promises to be a great game.